Spin (Robert Charles Wilson)

2.5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
Spin attempts to combine a fairly intriguing and original hard sci-fi concept with a deep personal story.  The sci-fi elements really don’t take up that much room; you could probably write them all out in about 10 pages, so the bulk of the book is comprised of the story of one man’s events during this sci-fi event.  Unfortunately, while the sci-fi elements are compelling, the human side of things is maudlin and boring.  The characters are as deep as I have ever seen in a book, with detailed backstories and personal dramas, but at their core they are fundamentally very, very uninteresting and uncompelling characters.  I enjoyed finishing this book, and once the whole sci-fi aspect had been revealed I found myself having fun thinking about it, but the actual experience of reading the book was tedious and unpleasant.  As a genre, hard sci-fi can and should do better at marrying intriguing concepts with compelling stories, so I do not recommend this book.

Greater Detail:
Tyler Dupree is the son of the housekeeper for a prominent family.  He spends his youth in the company of the prominent family’s twin children.  When the sky is suddenly blocked by unknown phenomena, Tyler and the twins begin a lifelong quest to understand and adjust to their new reality.

I like to think of good sci-fi as something like a good science experiment.  You set up whatever premise you want as an author, then stand back and let it run its course through your story.  As a reader, I will accept any premise, however strange or convoluted, but once the story is in motion I want things I am familiar with to behave according to how I expect them to and the author to not randomly drop in new, convoluted major story elements that aren’t related to the original storyline.  I feel this author fails at this.  People behave very inconsistently to actual expected behaviors interpersonally and as groups, a globe full of scientists don’t ever pick up on things I would think are very natural as a layperson, and the story picks up weird major new elements unrelated to the original premise fairly consistently.

If the book were not a chore to read due to the trite human drama, perhaps these issues could be ignored, but the combination is very frustrating and further exacerbated by the fact that for some odd reason the author chooses to split the narrative between a progression stemming from shortly after the original incident to the present and a present where the protagonist is in constant danger.  This narrative split leeches all the drama out of anything that happened in the past, because you already know the outcome of most important things, and simultaneously makes the sections written in the present frustrating and unrewarding because you know that you will be constantly be yanked back to the uninteresting past.  The actual sci-fi bits I was interested in are split fairly evenly between the two, but there is just too little to the original concept spread over too many pages to make the actual reading of this book anything other than an exercise in monotony.

It really pains me that this author chose to make his book like this.  If the story had been less maudlin and depressing, if the characters could have been more motivated and active, if the author could have just stepped back and let his original premise play out instead of constantly shoving new, distracting, but ultimately superfluous stuff into the book then this could really have been enjoyable to read.  I can’t even say that I would be interested in reading another one of this author’s books, because even though I enjoyed the upper level concepts, this book was just too arduous to get through.

Comparisons to Other Authors:
I’d like to contrast this to Steve White’s The Prometheus Project which, while a little bit weaker on the hard sci-fi side, does actually manage to have an interesting human element.

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Posted in Sci-Fi/Fantasy

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