June 27, 2006
Spin by Robert Charles Wilson
Robert Charles Wilson is consistently good, always delivering new and sometimes old science-fiction ideas that deserve attention with characters and plotlines that never disappoint.
Spin has many old science-fiction ideas contained within it, but all of them are carefully re-considered within a storyline that is already compelling: a coming-of-age story of the main character, Tyler Dupree. But this story is set within a grand and far more painful coming-of-age for humanity itself.
Tyler, ever since he was a young child, has been close friends with twins: Diane and Jason Lawton. The class distinctions that produce a simultaneous envy, fear and affection between Tyler and the rich and powerful Lawton family is wonderfully rendered. If nothing else fantastic happened in this novel, that story would be reason enough to read it. However, fantastic things do happen: while adolescents, Tyler and the Lawton twins witness first hand the creation of a planet-spanning shield around the Earth, presumably by aliens, which blocks out the universe. Experiments quickly show that time passes slowly inside the Spin, so while 30 years pass on Earth, 300 billion years pass outside the shield. Humanity does what it can, taking advantage of the temporal difference to first terraform and then colonize Mars. There is a fateful meeting of the human-descended Martians with the Earthbound variety in the third act, which literally transforms humanity: one human at a time. Together the two groups get closer to piecing together the nature of the puzzle: why does the Spin exist? What is its ultimate purpose? Is it benign or punitive?
Lomax quoted a poem by a nineteenth-century Russian poet named F. I. Tiutchev, who couldn't have imagined the Spin but wrote as if he had:
Gone like a vision is the external world
and Man, a homeless orphan, has to face
helpless, naked and alone,
the blackness of immeasurable space.
All life and brightness seem an ancient dream,
while in the substance of the night,
unraveled, alien, he now perceives
a fateful something that is his by right
Then Lomax departed the stage, and after the prosaic business of backward counting, the first of the rockets rode its column of fire into the unraveling cosmos behind the sky. A fateful something. Ours by right.
The idea of an enforced isolation for Earth from the universe is similar to other ideas in science-fiction: like in "Quarantine" by Greg Egan, a novel in which the solar system in encased in a impenetrable Bubble. But in Spin, this isolation will turn out to be closer in spirit to what the monolith represents in "2001: A Space Odyssey". In other words, the isolation will paradoxically result in a journey for all of mankind by the end of the book.
Wun knew (or had been coached to understand) how unlikely this event seemed to the average Earthling. ... So he thanked us all for our hospitality in his best mid-Atlantic accent and talked wistfully about his home and why he had left it to come here. He painted Mars as a foreign but entirely human place, the kind of place you might like to visit, where the people were friendly and the scenery was interesting, although the winters, he admitted, were often harsh.
("Sounds like Canada," Carol said.)
Update (Sep 10, 2006): I removed the comment about RCW being underrated. Spin won the Hugo for best novel of 2006. Links to the World Science Fiction Convention: WSFS page and the 64th WSFS Convention.
%T Spin %A Robert Charles Wilson %I Tor %D 2005 %G ISBN: 0-765-34825-X (pb) %P 454 %K science-fiction
Review written: 2006/2/19Posted by anoop at June 27, 2006 02:36 PM