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Spin
Robert Charles Wilson
Tor, 364 pages

Spin
Robert Charles Wilson
Robert Charles Wilson was born in California and moved to Canada at the age of nine. From his first novel, A Hidden Place (1986), through to his latest, he has written a number of entertaining books. They include Darwinia (1998), Memory Wire (1987), Gypsies (1989), The Divide (1990), A Bridge of Years (1991), The Harvest (1992) and Mysterium (1994) -- the latter winning the Philip K. Dick Award. Most reviewers compare his work to that of Clifford Simak.

Robert Charles Wilson Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Bios
SF Site Review: The Chronoliths
SF Site Review: The Perseids and Other Stories
SF Site Review: Bios
SF Site Review: Bios
SF Site Review: Darwinia
Robert Charles Wilson Tribute Site

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Sherwood Smith

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One summer night the stars abruptly blink out.

Three young people are lying on the grass behind the splendid house belonging to the parents of the twins, Jason and Diane Lawton. With them is Tyler Dupree, a year younger, son of the housekeeper to the Lawtons. They react, like the rest of the country, with a variety of emotions, and everyone wonders if the sun will come up. Jason is excited about the scientific questions; Tyler and Diane are on the phone when there is indeed a dawn -- but the sun they see is not the real sun.

Tyler is the first person narrator, which gives the necessary infodumps a human voice. Watching how skillfully Robert Charles Wilson interweaves the scientific information into the three protagonists' experience is a pleasure. Tyler has a crush on Diane that never quite abates, and Jason is their tycoon father's heir apparent, raised with the burden of expectation. Thus the Lawtons get drawn into the political and scientific side of the mysterious 'Spin' -- probing the membrane that suddenly shrouded the Earth -- and so Tyler, Jason's best friend, gets the inside track on the unfolding discoveries and secrets ahead of the rest of the world.

Interspersed with Tyler's life story are snips of present-day action, when he is quite a bit older. We get hints of breakthroughs to come, which keeps the tension snapping, an achievement in a book chock-full of SFnal ideas and necessary explanatory passages. But Wilson unerringly puts those in just when we want them the most. Meanwhile Diane goes off and joins a religious cult, Jason is buried in scientific work, and Tyler pursues a medical degree.

The only discovery I'll mention here (it's revealed on the book jacket) is that only a few years pass on Earth while millions of years pass outside the Spin barrier, making it possible to do really long-duration experiments once they figure out how to penetrate the membrane. This leads to even more splendid surprises, as well as believable consequences back on Earth.

Wilson wisely keeps his focus tightly on his three protagonists, which avoids the cast-of-thousands cliché snapshots of most end-of-times novels. Who set up the Spin? The Scientists call the unknown perps the Hypotheticals -- and Spin does eventually provide answers to all the questions.

It's difficult for me, at least, to sum up my impressions of a complex book like this one without spoilers -- this is a review, not a critique. So I'll try to work around the surprises. We bring out own experience to any book we read -- but my guess is that those who might find it most wise and insightful are those whose own convictions mirror those in the book, in particular, but not confined to, males with a secular humanist bent. I am a female, and I think secular humanism is a point of view, rather than the point of view, so I sometimes felt the auctorial finger prodding me in the direction he wanted me to go. In other words, I finally found the questions he raised in this book more interesting than the answers -- and I did feel zaps of impatience when it seemed to me that females were rewarded with the accolade of being smart and worthy of success only after they agreed with the 'right-thinking' males. (The one major wrong-thinking male being Diane's Simon, who shares her faith -- a one-dimensional character who seemed to be there only to lose encounters with Tyler.). But you might disagree. Where I feel on firm ground is in encouraging you to get and read Spin.

Copyright © 2005 Sherwood Smith

Sherwood Smith is a writer by vocation and reader by avocation. Her webpage is at www.sff.net/people/sherwood/.


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