Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Book review: Spin by Robert Charles Wilson

I really enjoyed this novel, a character-driven SciFi story about Earth in the aftermath of its sudden enclosure within what became known as the Spin membrane. Inside the membrane, on Earth, time progresses as normal, while outside the membrane time advances as relativistic speeds — billions of years pass by in space over the span of a couple of decades on earth.

Our protagonist is Tyler Dupree, close childhood friend to siblings Jason and Diane Lawton. One night, the three are outside stargazing, when the sky suddenly goes pitch black — the stars and moon disappear and there is nothing left in the sky. As it progressively becomes more clear exactly what happened that night, the world grapples with the implications of being enclosed within the Spin membrane: namely, that while our lives on Earth continue at a languorous pace, our planet is in fact rapidly nearing its terminal condition of being enveloped by the expanding sun; furthermore, something out there placed the membrane over Earth, so who was it and why did they do it?

Our three characters react in different ways to the initial Blackout and eventual revelations that mark their forward paths into adulthood. Jason was marked by genius at a young age, much to the delight of his father, E.D., who plans from very early on to have Jason follow in his footsteps. As such, as E.D.’s protege, Jason builds a career at Perihelion Industries, a JPL/SpaceX analog on the east coast of the US, where his research covers a range of questions relating to the Spin membrane. Tyler goes to medical school and becomes a physician, but due to his friendship with Jason he is privy to more insider information than most. Diane was deeply affected by the Blackout on a spiritual level and turns to a number of religious cults that attempt to provide their own existential explanations for the Spin.

The three characters’ insight provides for very interesting human psychological and ideological ruminations that balance out the harder SciFi aspects of the plot. This is a perfect example of a SciFi novel that uses an extraordinary situation and/or SciFi backdrop to explore the human condition. The world-building and character profiles were all carefully constructed and engrossing, and the science was on point. I’d definitely recommend this one!

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