Reviewed: September 24, 2005
By: Robert Charles Wilson
Publisher: TOR Books
364 pages, $35.95
Renowned science fiction writer Arthur
C. Clarke once proposed what came to be called Clarkeís Law. It says that
any sufficiently advanced technology will be indistinguishable from magic.
For most of the inhabitants of the world in Robert Charles Wilsonís latest
look at the future, it must have seemed like some sort of very powerful magic
the day that the stars disappeared.
Tyler Dupree was 12 years old the night
it happened, out on a hillside looking at the sky through binoculars with
his best friends the Lawton twins, Jason and Diane. The siblings were bickering
and so they didnít see the slight flash, almost no more than a sudden glare,
that preceded the darkness.
The next day the sun came up as usual,
except that it really didnít, and nothing after that was ever exactly usual
It took a lot of time for people to
realize what had happened, because the orb that replaced the sun did most
of the things that a star ought to do for a planet. But there were no other
stars, nor was there a moon, nor any of the other things that used to orbit
The planet was surrounded by some sort
of a force field, which cut it off from the rest of space and time. The space
part was pretty clear from early on. It took a little longer for humanity
to learn about the time. Outside the barrier, time was passing by at the rate
of something like a week per every few seconds, a hundred million years for
By the time this becomes more general
knowledge some five Earth years after the October Event, the solar system
is approaching the point where its aging sun will begin to expand and turn
into a red giant, eventually growing in diameter until the Earth itself is
inside the bloated orb. This is likely to happen within Tylerís lifetime.
Humanity responds in various ways to
Tyler went on to a career in medicine,
and tried to contribute to society and make a living that way.
Jason took after his father and tried
to find a way out of the mess by using science and industry. The elder Lawton
had been a giant in telecommunications. Without satellites, the industry had
to try to duplicate the technology using high altitude balloons. Further,
with no way of knowing whether the Spin, as it was called, would protect Earth
from the aging sun, mankind needed to find a way to leave the planet. That
worked, sort of, and had some unexpected side effects.
Diane joined one of many doomsday cults
that flourished in the wake of the Spin. Some of their beliefs were just crazy;
others made a little sense.
Was the Spin a natural event, a supernatural
event, or the result of some advanced science? Was it intended to save humanity
or jail it? What kind of intelligent being could or would design such a thing?
Only a few of these questions are answered
by the time the book concludes.
The tale is told in two strands. We
meet Tyler as a very sick adult, hiding out from people who are trying to
do him in. Diane is with him and they are on the run. Tyler has taken some
sort of alien drug and is going through a metamorphosis. While he is changing,
he recalls the past in fever dreams, beginning with the night of the October
Event and hitting high spots in the decades since.
While this is a little confusing at
first, it is an effective way to tell the story. Most of the questions that
are raised in the first chapter (in the year 4 X 109 AD) are answered naturally as you
read, but the things that you donít know right away keep you guessing and
Aside from the puzzle, Wilson shows
an aptitude for creating complex characters. In Tyler we see an emotionally
fragile man who finds his identity in his friendships and holds onto an unrequited
childhood crush even as it cripples him to other romantic relationships. Diane
is the child who gave up trying to compete with her brother for her fatherís
affection and sought wholeness in other ways, diving into religion as a safety
net. Jason is locked in a lifelong competition to live up to his fatherís
expectations and, at the same time, surpass the old man and become his own
The shifting alliances among the trio
are complex, but not unexpected.
For all its open ended structure, Spin
was a complete novel in itself and did not require any sequels. Sales have
been good, however, as has been critical and fan reaction, and Iíve heard
that Wilson is planning to deal with some of the unanswered questions in two
Lots of science fiction writers love
puns, and it appears that the completed trilogy will go by the name of the