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Robert Charles Wilson: Spin

This got great reviews when it came out in 2005 and won the Hugo Award that year, but I didn’t get around to reading it until now. It’s a science fiction novel with the premise (slight spoiler, but you find this out really early on) that the Earth has suddenly been encased in some sort of field that makes time go a hundred million times slower than the rest of the universe. I could start mentioning the implications, but that would be a spoiler — half the fun of the book is trying to predict them.

My wife (who had read it earlier) asked if I considered this “hard sf”. I don’t, really; although the book is largely about exploring what follows from a science premise, it doesn’t get into many technical details, and it’s just as much about the effect of the situation on the characters as it is about the situation itself. And I thought the character stuff was pretty well handled, with the exception of the main character and narrator, who tends to remain somewhat of a cipher. I think that’s a common problem; the author doesn’t want to risk turning readers off too much with whatever decisions he or she makes for the narrator, so that person ends up becoming a little boring or hard to read.

As often happens with genre novels, the plot ends up with a lot of action that is not easy for me to follow totally. This gear shift can sometimes make me like the last quarter of a book a lot less than the first three-quarters, but Wilson partially gets around that by breaking up that quarter and sprinkling it throughout the book as flash-forwards. I’m not sure it was really necessary from a structural standpoint (the plot would work fine told linearly), but it did help keep my eyes from glazing over at the end.

And the end is fine — not awesome but not disappointing. It turns out to be the first of three books, although I don’t know if that was the plan at the time it was written. Unfortunately, the second one has gotten fairly negative reviews, at least compared to the first, so I’m going to wait to see how the third is received before I decide whether to continue the series.

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