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Spin (2006)

Spin (2006)

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3.99 of 5 Votes: 5
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076534825X (ISBN13: 9780765348258)
tor science fiction

About book Spin (2006)

First off, my breakdown of the basics:Narrative: 5-stars. Highly intelligent, compelling, wonderful world-building. It's a novel of grand ideas yet somehow, it maintained a certain sense of intimacy. While this is, at heart, sci-fi, it deals with many things including science, religion, faith, love, loss (including loss of hope, loss of self, loss of faith), the deterioration of humanity and humanity's intrinsic need for survival, sometimes at all costs.Writing: 5 stars. Utterly beautiful prose, very intelligent, unbelievable imagery (both sensory and emotionally). Robert Charles Wilson took the time to tell his story his way, even if it meandered here and there every now and again, and most importantly, he didn't pander to the lowest common denominator.Characters: 4 stars. Wonderfully rich character development, realistic journeys and character arcs, sympathetic characters that the reader can easily relate to; very nuanced protagonists and antagonists, including antiheroes. Even the characters I didn't necessarily like were not truly unlikable - what drove them to be who they were was as much a part of them that you could understand why they were drawn that way.Science: 4 stars. The science was actually quite sound. Mind you, this is still science fiction, so there is a lot of it that is speculative in nature. Having said that, what I liked about it was that it was accessible and true enough. There are a lot of novels out there that have grand ideas but fall short on the science (e.g., The Age of Miracles, which was overall well-written and a good story, but the science wasn't rigorous enough -- there were times when I felt slightly cheated because the author either skirted around the science or posited theories that were just unbelievable to me). I'm not going to say I bought 100% of what Robert Charles Wilson wrote for his explanation of why or how the Spin Barrier was erected (and there are still some parts where I'm a bit fuzzy), but I did appreciate all the thought and research he did. The science in Spin was fairly solid, and that's really all I'm asking for in sci-fi.Overall: 4.5 stars, which, in Goodreads parlance equals 5 stars.My thoughts in general:Framework narratives can be tricky. There are some authors who frame a story and touch on the framework or secondary narrative only at the beginning and end of the story. What I liked about Spin was that the main (Tyler's story from childhood through the present) and secondary (the far future, which is 4x10^9 AD) narratives are equally important, and Wilson spends as much time exploring the past as the present/future. They're inextricably linked, and time, both from Tyler's perspective and as a result of the Spin barrier, flows very much like a mobius strip, clockwise and counterclockwise within a Euclidean space.While this is a sci-fi novel, I would hazard a guess that this is probably closer to 40% sci-fi and 60% a character study, with the focus being on the relationship and interrelations among Tyler, Jason and Diane. This isn't like most sci-fi novels where the focus is mostly on us vs. aliens, or us vs. tech-gone-bad, or us vs. us-gone-bad-due-to-technological-advancements. Spin is more like one of those sprawling literary novels with a smattering of fantastical sci-fi peppered in every so often, just so that we don't forget that it's actually sci-fi. The speculative parts definitely color the decisions and life trajectories of the various characters, and while you can't ignore it when Wilson's focusing on it, it always fades to the background the rest of the time. What's focused on is a very human drama, dealing with unrequited love, friendships, loneliness, family and everything in between.The main characters (Tyler Dupree, Jason and Diane Lawton) all stood for something: Jason was uncompromisingly a man of science: a child genius, he was created and molded by his father to be the man he eventually became. Jason knew how to play the game politically in order to fuel his single-minded obsession: funneling government and scientific resources into understanding the Spin, at any cost. Diane, Jason's twin sister, was equally as gifted and as intelligent, but unlike Jason, she was the ignored child. In a way, her parents' lack of concern for her propelled her into the tailspin she entered as a teen. Shunning science, she absorbed everything that was anathema to Jason and her father: new age beliefs, twisted fundamentalist Christianity, a new reading on biblical apocalyptic prophecies. As much as Jason loved the Spin, Diane hated it and was almost uncompromising in her beliefs to refute the meaning of the Spin. What's interesting is that while she wholeheartedly took on a cowl of religious fervor, there was always a part of her that instinctively knew religion wasn't the answer but that she was willing to hold on to it because it was the only thing that made sense to her after the Spin.And then there's Tyler. Tyler was the twins' best friend from childhood, and the one constant in both Jason's and Diane's lives. Tyler stood for everything the twins never had: love, faith, loyalty, constancy. He was the poor kid looking in on the Big House (Tyler was the son of the twins' father's partner and friend; when his dad passed away, Tyler and his mother ended up living in a little cottage on the Lawtons' property. His mom became the Lawtons' housekeeper). He was the one who fell in love with Diane at age ten and who was enamored by Jason's intelligence. Growing up, the twins included Tyler in everything and he soaked up all that they offered -- lessons, toys, endless summer days, friendship, secrets. But in the same token, Tyler was the one who wanted and needed to get away from the Lawtons and the Big House. But in leaving the Lawtons behind, he became a shell, moving through life as if something were missing. Sure, he was successful; he became a doctor, had relationships, had a life. His later lovers inevitably always pointed out that Tyler was just coasting, was largely indifferent, that everything always came back to the Lawtons and that he couldn't give them up because he didn't want to. But I think he wouldn't give them up because they were as integral to him as he was to them. Both Jason and Diane relied on Tyler for various kinds of support. Tyler was Jason's lifeline to the outside world - sure, he shared things with Tyler that would have gotten both of them thrown into prison - but more than that, Tyler was Jason's link to humanity. Jason was too logical, too scientific, out of touch with the world and with people, but with Tyler, Jason was able to go back to a simpler time and just be Jason. Diane held on to Tyler because he provided her with whatever her religion, her husband and her family couldn't give her: namely unconditional, uncompromising love. Tyler almost functioned as the twins' soul. Similarly, both Jason and Diane was Tyler's brain and heart, respectively, and he couldn't function without having them in his life either. Whenever Tyler cut himself off from them, his life was empty, as empty as the Earth seemed once the Spin barrier occluded it from the galaxy and the universe. It was a very weird -- and some would say unhealthy -- symbiotic relationship the three of them shared. And despite their imperfect and utterly trying relationship, Tyler loved both of them.One of my favorite parts of the book explains their convoluted relationship (in this excerpt, Tyler is being tended to by Ibu Ina, a Minang physician in the future): Tyler said "Not half as beautifully as Jason did. It was like he was in love with the world, or at least the patterns in it. The music in it.""And Diane was in love with Jason?""In love with being his sister. Proud of him.""And were you in love with being his friend?""I suppose I was.""And in love with Diane.""Yes.""And she with you.""Maybe. I hoped so.""Then, if I may ask, what went wrong?""What makes you think anything went wrong?""You're obviously still in love. The two of you, I mean. But not like a man and a woman who have been together for many years. Something must have kept you apart. Excuse me, this is terribly impertinent."Yes, something had kept us apart. Many things. Most obviously, I supposed, it was the Spin. She had been especially, particularly frightened by it, for reasons I had never completely understood; as if the Spin were a challenge and a rebuke to everything that made her feel safe. What made feel safe? The orderly progression of life; friends, family, work -- a kind of fundamental sensibility of things, which in E.D. and Carol Lawton's Big House must already have seemed fragile, more wished-for than real.The Big House had betrayed her, and eventually even Jason had betrayed her: the scientific ideas he presented to her like peculiar gifts, which had once seemed reassuring -- the cozy major chords of Newton and Euclid -- became stranger and more alienating...a universe not only expanding but accelerating towards its own decay....The Spin, when it came, must have seemed like a monstrous vindication of Jason's worldview--more so because of his obsession with it.... It was immensely powerful, terrifyingly patient, and blankly indifferent to the terror it had inflicted on the world. Imagining Hypotheticals, one might picture hyperintelligent robots or inscrutable energy beings; but never the touch of a hand, a kiss, a warm bed, or a consoling word.So she hated the Spin in a deeply personal way, and I think it was that hatred that ultimately led her to Simon Townsend and the NK movement. In NK theology, the Spin became a sacred event but also a subordinate one: large but not as large as the God of Abraham; shocking but less shocking than a crucified Savior, an empty tomb.I was very pleasantly surprised to find out that this is only the first book in a trilogy. I already downloaded the second and third books. While the subsequent books won't have the Lawtons and Tyler in it, I'm still looking forward to seeing where Robert Charles Wilson will take me. I definitely think he's become one of my favorite authors now.

Spin is a Hugo award winner that wonders what would happen if the earth were forced to remain as it is while the universe around us aged at approximately 100 million years per earth year. as far as scifi concepts go, it is a fairly mind-boggling one. to compound matters further, scientists quickly realize that as the universe ages, the earth's chance for utter destruction increases - when and if the shield around the earth is eventually lifted. and that is what creates the human drama within Spin. the reader is given two big things to chew on: the more intellectual mystery of who is behind the shield and what is its purpose... and the more emotional drama of seeing how End Times will impact all of us silly humans. Spin succeeds in accomplishing its first goal; i found it to be less successful in reaching the second.the first goal is expertly achieved. Spin is in many ways 'pure science fiction'... it is not fantasy or historical fiction or metaphysical metaphor gussied up with scifi trappings. it takes a genuinely speculative approach to exploring the ramifications of this strange shield: what does it mean, what is its purpose, how does it impact us, how does it change us? everything connected to this central concept succeeds admirably. i really don't want to say much more on this, because part of the pleasure for me was finding out what was to come next - seeing the mystery explored, and open up into new mysteries. the one thing i will add was a plot turn that came out of the blue for me... how the earth could manipulate its new-found stasis. specifically, how the earth could terraform and then inhabit mars. one earth year = one hundered million regular years... terraforming & colonization that can take place within a few years! this was a really exciting development; even more thrilling was discovering all about this new martian world.for me, the second goal had more mixed results. i'll try to sum it up briefly: the earth goes bonkers. governments get even more paranoid, wars erupt, lawlessness is everywhere (which leads to a truly ironic ending for one particular character), suicides & murders increase, and religious feelings skyrocket. and so Spin is not just the tale of a fascinating scifi concept, but one about the human drama of What Is The Right Path To Take? when great and terrible things happen, how do we react, and what do our reactions say about us? what do we do when confronted with a state of absolute and infinite potentiality? and so Spin is both a novel of grand ideas, staggering possibilities, elaborate ways to wonder why and how and when and what if... and it is also a very intimate, small-scale chamber piece featuring three major characters and a handful of sharply dilineated supporting characters. each character has their own way of approaching these grand ideas and staggering possibilities.rather predictably, the second goal becomes a depressingly either/or type situation, with two of the major characters (the Scientist and the Zealot) embodying opposite ends of the spectrum and our protagonist landing somewhere (but not quite) in the middle. despite my complaints, Wilson's writing does not actually disappoint. he is not a pedantic author and his characters are sympathetically and realistically conceived and explored. they are alive. his narrative is not custom-built as a vehicle to express a certain dialectic and so i didn't feel as if the story was manipulated to prove certain points. nonetheless, i found this aspect of the novel to be rather tedious.i suppose these kinds of binary arguments just automatically aggravate me. what is up with humans always having to draw lines in the sand, ignoring the basic complexity of life, being unable to see multiple sides and multiple levels? why is it so hard to live with facts that any true adult knows to be truth: the world is a complicated place, humans are a complicated species, each individual encompasses many different things. we are a continuum - not a single, fixed point. right? perhaps i am an idealist (ha! sure). i feel these truths are self-evident... but as Spin and, oh, the entirety of human history attests, the species homo sapien usually chooses to reject such complexity. and so this sad spinning piece of rock and all of its denizens spins on.

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Following the resounding success of my Locus Quest, I faced a dilemma: which reading list to follow it up with? Variety is the spice of life, so I’ve decided to diversify and pursue six different lists simultaneously. This book falls into my HUGO WINNERS list.This is the reading list that follows the old adage, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it". I loved reading the Locus Sci-Fi Award winners so I'm going to crack on with the Hugo winners next (but only the post-1980 winners, I'll follow up with pre-1980 another time). Spin was my first meeting with Robert Charles Wilson and I came away impressed and disappointed in equal measure.Glowing reviews from Goodreads members had raised the bar of expectation... too far.Let’s start with the good: the premise is excellent, a really original and compelling idea. What would happen if one night the stars just went out? Some hypothetical alien race (or God?) has wrapped the Earth in a bubble, a membrane – an event, christened by us Earthlings as the Spin. The membrane is sophisticated, it allows sunlight through to enable our biosphere to survive and it allows us to send probes, etc, out to investigate its nature. But it doesn’t take long to realise that the bubble is messing with time – it’s flowing a lot faster outside the bubble than inside... like a million times faster.Some hypothetical alien race (or God?) has put Earth on slow-mo, like a museum exhibit, while the universe grows old around it.I think that’s an amazing idea! It throws up so many questions and I’ve never read anything like it before. So from pure premise, we’re at a 5-star start.So next we need our human lens on this story – if it was put to me, I’d have probably suggested multiple protagonists spread around key countries, to give a sense of the varied reactions and consequences to this global predicament, with a matter-of-fact tone, in the style of Robinson’s Mars trilogy.Wilson prefers to keep the lens a little tighter – he focuses on one family, specifically twin boy-girl siblings who are teenagers at the time of the Spin. The boy, Jason is a physics genius destined for great things – and their father is a big player in the American aerospace industry. So Jason grows up as one of the key thinkers in the human reaction, a leader in the fight. His sister, Diane, takes the opposite path – throwing herself into the religious reaction, apocalypse is coming, etc. Good idea, very interesting to see the different stages of that journey. Again, if we’re talking concepts, with an editor hat on – so far, so good – I can see this all working.And then... and then Wilson takes an additional step which I didn’t understand and didn’t like. He brings in an additional character as the narrator. Dr Tyler Dupree. Tyler is the son of Jason and Dianne’s housekeeper. He lives in the cottage on the corner of their estate. He’s their friend as they grow-up. He’s a decent, smart, everyman. He’s been placed in the story to give readers an easy ride, to give them someone they can relate to and experience this madcap world with. He’s supposed to ground the story. Where Jason and Dianne represent the extremes, Tyler is just a normal guy trying to make the best out of things and muddle along.I hated Tyler. No, wait, hate is too strong a word. I was bored by Tyler. I pitied Tyler. Tyler is nothing to this story... Jason is a world changer, and Tyler is his tag-along buddy. Dianne is an emotional rollercoaster and Tyler is her childhood sweetheart. Tyler himself is an emotional vacuum, paralysed by circumstances outside of his control playing it safe every step of the way.For me, this story would have been far more dramatic, tense, emotional, vivid, gripping – all the good things I look for in a story – without Tyler. Why couldn’t we just follow Jason and Dianne first-hand, rather than hearing a reduced and diluted version of their tales through wet-rag Tyler? We could have been seeing the life that inspired Jason’s schemes (and those schemes are brilliant!) rather than the every day tedium that is Tyler.I’m going to quote the book and Paul’s review here – because he nailed it:The day I left Perihelion the support staff summoned me into one of the now seldom-used boardrooms for a farewell party, where I was given the kind of gifts appropriate to yet another departure from a dwindling workforce : a miniature cactus in a terracotta pot, a coffee mug with my name on it, a pewter tie pin in the shape of a caduceus.Yeah right so the world is about to end and there are millenial cults trashing the place which the woman he loves has married into one of them and his friend the genius has a grim disease and there's this stuff about a man from Mars but let's suspend all that and get the pot, the mug and the tiepin down, don't want to let that stuff go by unrecorded. Yeah they're little human touches amongst the catastrophes but let me tell you, Robert Charles Wilson, the pot, the mug and the tiepin are boring and if I may say so, so is your protagonist, a guy you'd rather jab needles into your sinuses than share a railway journey with, Doctor Humourless Dullard should be his name, not Tyler Dupree, which sounds like a guy who made two blues records for Paramount in 1928, but anyway, I'm straying from the point - what was the point?So I’m not alone with my gripe here, even if I’m swimming against the tide. A lot of people found the Tyler-device to be stonking success – it helped non-sci-fi geeks to get a handle on this very human, very accessible story. I can see that – I can – but I’m not that reader. I am the sci-fi-geek, and I found it unnecessary and irritating. Far too much drivel amidst the gems for anything more than a three-star rating, and far too many gems amongst the drivel for anything less.After this I read: A Squash and a Squeeze

What a great read this book was for me. This is my first time reading a Robert Charles Wilson novel, more will soon follow. This is a science fiction novel about our planets future, about our current state, and also about our past. Wilson does not try to overwhelm the reader with hardcore science, mathematics, or physics. Instead he takes us and get us invested in characters that are very much like people that we know, family that we love, and friends that we admire. I really identified with Travis and Jason our protagonists. I loved this coming of age, coming of world, science fiction novel. This book would appeal to a much wider audience than that of the tech crowd. Do yourself a favor and add this to your reading queue.

The best way to come at this novel would be completely blind, not knowing a thing of what it’s about. My complaint about most movies these days is that too much is revealed in the trailers, so much so that the movie in its entirety is often a disappointment. For Spin to really work its magic on you the less you know the better. If you’re not expecting it, the awesome plot and the ramifications for the characters involved will hit you like a jack-hammer to the solar plexus. The good news is, if you read up on the book and know a fair amount before you begin, the intricate story and how it unfolds will still impress you, and engage you to the last page. Don’t let the science-fiction elements scare you away if that’s not your thing, because while at its core it is a very science driven story, it is not overly burdened with scientific jargon and explanations. The scenario is easy to grasp, seemingly plausible (ergo endlessly frightening and exciting). Wilson is a talented writer and his tale is well told, and he doesn’t sacrifice his characters to plot – the way some big budget movies will sacrifice story and characters to special effects. Ty, Diane and Jase are believable, likable, flawed characters, richly drawn. You live through the Spin with them and hold your breath wondering how it’s all going to end. Theirs is a story of friendship, and the bonds that bring us together as children, and keep us together as adults, even when the world is falling apart and the miles and years pile up around you. For fans of apocalyptic / dystopian books, this is a must read. It’s not only a human survival story, but bravely, with keen insight, explores rich philosophical terrain regarding Earth’s place in a larger unknowable Universe. Are we alone? And if we are not, who is keeping us company and to what purpose? There’s not much more I can say, without giving salient plot points away, and I don’t want to get anywhere close to doing that. Remember, the less you know the better. Take a chance and pick up this book as blind as you can –- I promise you won’t regret it.

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