Author: Robert Charles Wilson
Details: (c) 2005 Robert Charles Wilson; Pub 2006 Tor; ISBN 0-765-34825-X
Verdict: Spin is an appealing modern take on traditional SF.
Reasons for reading it: There was a huge buzz about it when it came out which made me want to try it.
How it came into my hands: I found it lying around in Screwy's room and borrowed it. I hope it wasn't left there accidentally by one of his carers, because Screwy can't get up there himself these days. Anyway I'll return it when I next see him.
Spin seems like the natural successor to Golden Age SF, Asimov or Clarke. The whole story is based around exploring an imaginary alien technology, in this case putting the earth inside a temporal discontinuity. Wilson does what geeks refer to as "sensawunda" extremely well; I really believed in the Spin and its effects on the world, and there was just the right amount of technobabble to give the sense of science fiction. (Wilson gets points for keeping the biology and physics vague enough not to be glaringly stupid, but present enough to create the right atmosphere.) And I was really excited to find out how the situation would play out and how humanity would be saved from a rather original form of Doom.
There is some attempt to explore character and relationships, but basically you have a collection of walking viewpoints. You have a typical Asimovian hero figure, a capable scientist who ends up in a position of political influence even though all he really wants to do is pursue pure knowledge. Tyler is almost a stock character as narrator, a doctor who is intelligent enough to be the recipient of Jason's explanations but not to come up with any of his own, and supposed to give the reader a sense of being naturally rational and skeptical, yet sympathetic. The major female character is there to be a love interest for Tyler and the other women in the book are an idealized mother, a spy who uses her seductive wiles to steal secrets, and an alcoholic. It should have been fairly easy for me to sympathize with Tyler, and relate to his admiration for Jason and his love for Diane; I've always been drawn to sidekick characters and have a very high tolerance for stories about messing up the chance to be with your true love but continuing to love long after it's hopeless. But really what held my interest was wanting to know about the Spin, the Hypotheticals and the Martian colony.
The pacing of revealing information about the imaginary future background is done very well, and I really liked the reveal about who the Hypotheticals really are. The ending is a little too pat, almost literally deus ex machina. The choice to alternate between the climactic events at the end and the events leading up to that somewhat detracts from the drama of the sun threatening to engulf the earth, but that section is powerful in spite of knowing the outcome by then.
You can tell it's a book from the last few years; it has a lot of contemporary concerns such as excessive government surveillance and media manipulation, and a zeitgeisty version of the fear that humanity may destroy the world with careless energy policy. But basically, if you're the sort of person who discovered Asimov and were inspired to devour everything with a rocket sticker on it, you'll probably love Spin; if you concluded that SF is wish fulfilment for boys who like technology but don't understand relationships (even if you have revised that opinion based on more modern explorations of the genre), you'll probably hate it.