Spin

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 again.

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 Earth.

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 every day.

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 crisis situations.

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 wondering.

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 person.

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 sequels.

Lots of science fiction writers love puns, and it appears that the completed trilogy will go by the name of the Spin Cycle.