Saturday, March 29, 2008

Book Review: "Spin" by Robert Charles Wilson

I have always been of the opinion that the lure of science fiction was its easy entry point and the richer rewards you get when you delve deep enough. I started reading science fiction for the space ships, robots, laser fire and all that Star Wars type special effects laden action. I stayed for the fascinating ideas, the sense of wonder, and the power of science. While I still enjoy the occasional space opera, it's books like the Hugo award winner "Spin" that keep me coming back for more.

Tyler and his best friends; twins Jason and Diane, witness the day that the stars disappeared. The day an unknown alien force wrapped the whole of planet Earth with a mysterious black membrane, for reasons they did not share with humanity. The Spin, as it has been called, allows sunlight to filter to Earth, but little else. What is more disturbing, it has isolated the Earth from time itself. Where only a few minutes pass on Earth, thousands of years pass outside the Spin. The threat of a dying sun killing off humanity is now no longer just a hypothetical exercise of thought. Humanity struggles to make sense of its new position. Some, like Jason, choose to pursue a scientific solution. Some, like Diane, pursue a more spiritual end. Others still, like Tyler, choose apathy.

The idea of a temporally unhinged Earth is a mind bogglingly fascinating idea, and opens several doors to many others. Time has always been one of humanity's greatest identifiers, and taking it out of the equation is an interesting prospect both scientifically and philosophically. If the book had only relied on these elements it would still be a good SciFi book. Asking interesting questions and exploring, along with the reader, the answer(s). But what makes it a great book, is that Wilson didn't stop there. A monumental event like the Spin would also have far reaching sociological implications. Faced by the very real possibility of global Armageddon, humanity itself becomes unhinged. And Wilson explores the new human condition masterfully through his three protagonists. But what makes it (in my opinion) a modern SciFi classic is that Wilson's characters are not just abstract cut outs used as placeholders in a moral debate, Tyler and company are real characters. They grow and they interact. Changing each other as they change themselves as they play out their lives in a well written drama.

"Spin" speculates and fascinates, makes you laugh and makes you cry, takes you to the farthest ends of the universe then reminds you of what it is to be human. That Hugo award is very much deserved. Highly, highly recommended.

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