Near future and far future: Robert Charles Wilson’s Spin

What’s so brilliant about Spin is the way that it’s a terrific human story as well as a terrific gosh-wow new-ideas science fiction story. It’s so good at this that it’s hard to think of anything else that’s as good in quite the same way. It’s hard to play the “if you like x you’ll like y” game with it. It isn’t in a subgenre, unless cutting-edge science fiction is itself a subgenre.

It’s also astonishingly good at pacing of revelation—by which I mean the speed at which the reader finds out what’s going on. The story’s being told in first person and very much in hindsight, and very much as a told story, with an ongoing thread and a past-time thread, and Wilson uses all this to get the information across in bite size pieces that appear just when you want them. The tension in this book is carried, and admirably carried, by “what is going on” on all levels. Spin is a very self aware story; it has characters who have read SF, a Martian who makes Stranger in a Strange Land jokes, it knows all the SF tricks, and yet because it’s dealing with new ideas and a strong human story I think it would probably be very approachable for a new reader. My son read it when he was sixteen (though already anything but a naive SF reader) and was totally and utterly blown away by it.

Not very far in the future (the book begins approximately tomorrow) there are these three kids, a pair of twins (Jason and Diane) and their friend Tyler. They’re out on the lawn when suddenly the stars go out. The book is a long exploration of why this has happened and how humanity, and most especially those three people, deal with the consequences.

I’m reluctant to talk about the extremely nifty ideas in Spin, because a lot of the joy of the book even, or perhaps especially, in a re-read is seeing them playing out so beautifully. But I have to mention the Spin itself. The world has been sped up relative to the universe. While a day goes by on Earth, a hundred thousand years are passing outside. This means that the book deals both with a near future and with the immense geological time spans, the life and death of stars and planets, the time it takes to terraform and civilize Mars, that are now within an ordinary human lifespan.

It won the Hugo, and very well deserved it was. This is the kind of book that makes me feel excited by science fiction all over again. It makes me want to jump up and down and say “Read it, read it, read it!” to all my friends.


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