So many authors, so little time… hence I’m not familiar with Robert Charles Wilson’s work. But when Spin won the Best Novel Hugo Award in August 2006, I resolved to read it. I bought my copy at The Tattered Cover in Denver around late September, then promptly left it on the register counter with A Fistful of Charms by Kim Harrison — how’s that for eclectic buying? Luckily, the folks at The Tattered Cover were wonderful about getting me my books but after I recovered them, both books drifted toward the bottom of my reading pile. (I was also delayed because, for my book club, I had to plow through Anita Shreve’s A Wedding in December. Unfortunately, it was neither the best example of her work nor the best use of my time).
As a result, I didn’t start Spin until after Christmas and I’m sorry I waited so long. The book jacket has reviews papered all over it, saying things like “the best science fiction novel so far this year” and “breathtaking!” It’s not hyperbole. The science fiction aspect of the novel is that Earth gets protected or blocked (depending upon your perspective) by a temporal shield or discontinuity, engineered by unknown agents. About 30 years passes on Earth during this story, while more than 300 billion years passes in the solar system. Everyone eventually realizes that mankind’s time as a species will be limited to about 45 years. Period. You can’t argue with a dying star.
I’m struck by the similar basic premise of the movie “Children of Men” that recently opened in theaters. What happens to mankind when our extinction becomes obvious, albeit for differing reasons? I haven’t seen the movie yet, but Spin investigates some results: heroic research and development surges, protectionist politics, rampant lawlessness, waves of suicides and mercy killings, and new religious cults/sects/denominations spouting up every day. The human side of this novel is colorful as we follow the protagonist Tyler and his friends the twins, Diane and Jason. The story starts with their adolescence and the establishment of the shield. Tyler is much less well-to-do than the twins and doesn’t get to go to the best schools but on the other hand, he doesn’t have to suffer with a tyrannically controlling father and an alcoholic mother. Not only does Wilson show large-scale sociological changes that occur due to imminent extinction, but we also get to experience all the varied coping methods used by the many flawed and distinctly human characters.
I won’t go into the plot, since I figure everyone reading this has the ability to read the jacket for themselves. I thoroughly recommend this book, as do dozens of book reviewers (and this time you can believe them).