Spin by Robert Charles Wilson

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Book Information  
AuthorRobert Charles Wilson
GenreScience Fiction
Book Reviews / Comments (submitted by readers)
Submitted by Archren 
(May 25, 2006)

For a book that spans billions of years and involves heavy-duty cosmic engineering, Hugo-nominated “Spin” is a remarkably quiet story. Told from the first-person POV of Tyler Dupree, it centers not on the SFnal Big Events, but on his relationships with his childhood friends Jason and Diane Lawton. It spans his life from roughly age 12 into his fifties, illustrating a time where the more things change, the more they stay the same.

In both “Spin” and “The Chronoliths,” Wilson takes an interesting angle on his story telling: the protagonist is not at the center of the major events that are happening (in that story, massive monuments keep appearing about the landscape, apparently sent back from the future). Instead, he is in relationships with people who are at the center of those events.

In “Spin,” one night the stars went out. The Earth has been enclosed in a sphere that blocks out all the light from the stars, Sun and Moon. Whoever has put up the barrier does provide an artificial sun, but otherwise regulates what can go in and out. From satellites launched beyond the barrier and recovered after crashing, we find out that the barrier is a time differential: for every second that passes to the humans on Earth, 3 years pass out in the solar system.

Jason Lawton is the son of an aerospace magnate who profits in the aftermath of the Spin event by selling high-altitude balloon replacements for all the telecommunication satellites lost beyond the barrier. Tyler is possibly Jason’s closest friend since childhood and also his personal physician. Jason is groomed to be both his father’s puppet and his heir. He heads up the Perihelion Foundation which becomes the spearhead for all the efforts made to understand and react to the Spin. He is the character at the center of the story. He drives most of the actual plot, and is our main vehicle for understanding the cosmic forces at work. At one point they decide to send out a mission to terraform Mars: after all, a million years of evolution can work in our favor while only a year might pass on Earth. It’s frankly a brilliant bit of SFnal Big Idea Engineering, and everything dealing with the attempt to give humanity a second chance on Mars is fascinating.

Jason’s twin sister Diane turned to religion in the aftermath. Although Tyler had loved her (unrequitedly) since childhood, she married another religious seeker. In contravention of your usual genre romance plot, she stays with her husband for decades, through most of the course of the story. It’s a admirable portrayal of real people in real marriages; most don’t run off simply because things aren’t as perfect as they might be. She comes to represent the feelings of people who have perhaps non-rational but very real fears about a universe that appears both hostile and bewildering.

Tyler is a somewhat passive hero. Even other characters point this out. The book is split into two narratives that alternate chapters: in one he is mostly drastically ill, being cared for by Diane, literally being helpless and passive. The other is his recollection of his life during the Spin events, spreading over at least three decades. In his narrative voice, he is very similar to the main character in “Chronoliths.” Nonetheless, he feels very real, and that counts for a lot. He is sympathetic, even when he’s allowing himself to be used. He has a core to which he stays true.
Subtle is probably the best way to describe “Spin.” Even as enormous events are taking place, people react the way people do: some succumb to hysteria, others try to make the best of things. Relationships continue to wax and wane. In a way it illustrates how much the Universe as a whole never truly manages to impede on our own species-centric world view. It’s an interesting book, and unlike some of the other Hugo nominees, I never found myself checking the page number to see how much longer it was to the end. For as quiet a book as it is, Wilson moves it along with a good sense of pacing and instills a genuine desire to see what happens next to the characters.

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