What would you do if you knew that the world was going to end in the next thirty years? That one day, before the end of your natural lifespan, the oceans will boil and the forests burst into flames, and life on this planet will come to an end? That you, your children, and even humanity itself have no future–that everything will end with you?
When the mysterious beings known as the Hypotheticals encase Earth in a temporal warp field that causes years to pass outside for every second on Earth, that is the uncomfortable question that all of mankind must confront. In five billion years–less than forty years on Earth–the sun will burn up its hydrogen and expand into a red giant star. When that happens, the sun will swallow the Earth and every living thing will die.
Some people turn to religion for answers. Some turn to Science. Some put off the question, living their lives as if the end will not come. But as the years pass and the unavoidable apocalypse looms nearer, humanity begins to spiral out of control, and civilization itself looms on the verge of collapse.
The year the stars fell from the sky, thirteen year old Tyler Dupree discovers that he is in love with his best friend (Jason Lawton)’s sister, Diane. The dynamics of the friendship between the three, however, make it impossible for Tyler to express his true feelings–and, in any case, Diane doesn’t seem interested in being anything more than a friend.
When the Spin hits, all three of them find themselves on radically different and sometimes conflicting paths. Diane turns to evangelical Christianity and the frenzied religious outporing the Spin inspires. Through his father, Jason rises to become one of the most influential scientists and directors in the Perihelion Foundation, the premier aerospace agency and Spin-related policy forming body in the US.
Tyler, however, pursues the same middle class life he probably would have followed anyway–medical school, followed by a career as a doctor. Still, his undiminished feelings for Diane and his frienship with Jason draw him into the center of the Spin hysteria and behind the scenes in the circuitous Spin-era politics.
Diane, now married to a fervent believer in a free love fundamentalist cult, comes to rely on Tyler as her only link to the outside world. Meanwhile, Jason Lawton pursues perhaps the most grandiose and ambitious project mankind has ever attempted; the terraformation of Mars.
With the temporal distortion of the Spin, millions of years of evolution turn Mars into a verdant green world in only one Earth year. When Jason launches the first manned mission to the planet, barely a week passes before the the first Martian-born human returns to mankinds ancestral home–a descendant of a civilization millenia older than our own. This small, dark-skinned, wrinkled man comes with a tantalizing message that may prove the key to finally understanding the Hypotheticals and the Spin itself.
But all of this may be too late, because the Spin membrane is finally beginning to show distressing signs of failure, and the sun has already grown hot enough to boil the oceans and scorch the planet.
I loved this book. Honestly, I have to say it is one of the best science fiction books I have ever read. Better even than Ender’s Game, better even than Foundation or any of the other classics. No other book that I’ve read has done everything that I believe a good science fiction book should do. I would highly recommend this book to anyone and everyone.
Like Clarke and a lot of the older classics in the science fiction tradition, Spin addresses some of the grand questions with which science and humanity have always wrestled. What is the ultimate end of mankind? The ultimate end of evolution? Are we unique in this universe? What is our place in the cosmos? What is transcendence, and can we as a mortal species achieve it?
Unlike much of the older works, however, Spin addresses these questions through solid, developed, rich characters and a human drama that is as engaging as anything in any other genre. When I read this book, I felt connected with these characters. I genuinely cared about them. They were real, distinct people who changed and grew based on their choices and experiences. Furthermore, their struggles and conflicts echoed my own. It felt true. Tyler’s unrequited love was not only utterly believable, it kept me just as engaged as the grand ideas and the science fiction elements.
As science fiction, the ideas in this book were some of the most original and eye-popping ideas I’ve ever seen. There was definitely a sense of wonder, as thick and beautiful as Clarke or Heinlein or Asimov. The thing that made these ideas so great, however, was the eminent believability that accompanied them. Robert Charles Wilson thought out the implications of everything, and showed them through concrete, human details. His Martian landscapes were as real and believable as his picture of the New England countryside. I not only felt that I was there, I felt that I was in this world, where the end-of-everything panic had set in, causing all sorts of bizarre, almost post-apocalyptic (pre-apocalyptic?) social changes. It was truly fascinating.
But it wasn’t just the storytelling that engaged me: Robert Charles Wilson’s prose is among some of the best that I’ve ever read. Reading this book really was like eating cheesecake. The writing not only flowed, it shined, yet in a way that illuminated the meaning behind the words rather than drawing attention to the words themselves. Wilson’s metaphors were not only rich and beautiful, they expressed the meaning behind the text so clearly that in each case, I don’t think he could have gotten across that particular impression, that feeling, in any other way. Everything was calculated, and I would read pages and pages of text without even realizing how far I’d come. Incredible.
I did have one issue with my first readthrough, back in July of last year: the Martian civilization, while grand, didn’t feel grand enough. I mean, in 0nly four thousand years of history, look how far we’ve come here on Earth–all of our religions, all of our science, all of our discoveries and everything else. We can hardly even remember what it was like, four thousand years ago–yet in Spin, the Martians know all about the reasons why Earth spawned their civilization, all of the questions that the Earthers have been asking about the Hypotheticals, etc. I almost think that the Martians would have a more mystical view of Earth; that their understanding of us would be steeped in legend, and that they would have forgotten who we really are.
In my second readthrough, however, this was less of an issue to me. Wilson really does make the Martians seem alien, a separate, distinct culture with a long, rich tradition. His Martian citizen is very distinct from any of the Earthers, and notices some very small things that we always take for granted. So, even though there could be more of a feeling of grandeur, Wilson already paints a very believable, very grand view of the Martian civilization he invents.
I am not exaggerating one bit when I say that this is probably the best science fiction book I have ever read. I would recommend it above and beyond anything else I’ve reviewed here on this website. If you haven’t already, pick up this book and read it.