Book: Spin by Robert Charles Wilson

Good; probably just as good if half as long

Robert Charles Wilson
Tor, 2005
ISBN: 0-765-34825-X
454 pages

I liked Robert Charles Wilson's science-fiction novel The Chronoliths only pretty well, but when Patrick Nielsen Hayden posted a blog entry about his more recent book, Spin, (link below for reasons I'll explain in a moment) praising it highly, and many commenters agreed with his praise, I decided to read it. The book is published by Mr Nielsen Hayden's employer and was edited by his wife, Teresa Nielsen Hayden, but he makes that clear in the post and I'm quite sure that his recommendation is entirely sincere. As it turns out, I liked Spin, though I didn't like it quite as much as he does.

As the book begins, it's approximately the present day and, one night, all the stars disappear. It turns out that, somehow, a barrier has been created around the Earth. Objects can pass through the barrier, but electromagnetic radiation can't. Sunlight is somehow provided artificially. Stranger still, time passes more slowly inside the barrier. A lot more slowly: more then 200,000 years pass outside for every day that passes on Earth. That means that within the lifetime of people who saw the stars disappear, the Sun will expand and make Earth uninhabitable.

But humans have an idea. They intend to terraform and colonize Mars. That would ordinarily take an unimaginably long time, but unimaginably long times pass every month.

That's a nifty premise for a novel, and the rest of the plot is worked out very well.

There's a question of how much of the plot to reveal when writing about a novel in which some of the interest is in the twists of the plot. There's nothing in my summary from more than a little past page 100. The dust-jacket copy that Mr Nielsen Hayden mostly wrote and posted in his blog entry (link here) goes a little farther, to page 167. The paperback back-cover copy goes past there. I personally think that they both reveal a little too much.

The big-media reviews that Mr Nielsen Hayden quote in his blog post make much of the "mainstream novel" aspects of Spin. And it does have a difficult love affair and a father-son conflict. But to my mind, those are the book's least successful aspects. Mr Wilson's prose is sturdy and workmanlike, but it does not sparkle. And he really doesn't have much new to say about difficult love affairs, father-son conflicts, and the like. In my opinion, the book would have been no less good and would probably have been better with rather less time spent on those themes.

It may be a trifle unfair to Mr Wilson to cherry-pick an example. Nevertheless:

    But the clothes suited her, or rather they framed
    her in a pleasing way, suggesting rude health
    and hayseed sensuality. Her face was as alive
    as an unplucked berry. She shaded her eyes in
    the sunlight and grinned -- at me in particular, I
    wanted to believe. My god, that smile. Somehow
    both genuine and mischievous. (p. 73)

Still, the science-fiction bits are pretty cool and worth your time, at least if you're feeling a bit patient.

There are a couple of tiny editing errors. I'm pretty sure that Mr Wilson meant "shimmer" rather than "simmer" on page 100 and there's "sewn" where "sown" is wanted on page 446.

Posted: Thu - June 22, 2006 at 07:19   Main   Category: