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Hugo Nominees: Part 2 of 4 (or possibly 5... actually, possible 3)

Posted by phduffy on 2006-04-16 17:03:56
This is part 2 of my multi part quest to review the novels nominated for this year's Hugo. Part 1 is here.

The novel being reviewed today is Spin by Robert Charles Wilson, which uses the passive voice much less than I will in this review.

Spin is told from the point of view of Tyler Dupree, and follows him and his two best friends, Diane and Jason Lawton. Spin starts out when Tyler's 12 years old, and describes his life: living on a small guest house next to the Big House that Diane and Jason live in, while his mom works as a maid in their house. Tyler is a smart kid, but Jason is an absolute genius, and he's being pushed to greatness by his overbearing father E.B.

One night while hanging out in the backyard, Tyler, Jason and Diane notice that all the stars go out. And the moon disappears too. Fortunately, the sun comes up the next morning, but the world has changed. A poorly understood membrane has been place over the world, blocking out the moon and stars, and even the sun (the sun they see is an artificial one). Additionally, time inside the membrane (or "Spin", as it's called) is moving at a different rate from time outside the Spin. The outside universe is gaining 3.17 years for every second inside the Spin. At this relative speed, the sun will become hot and burn up everyone the earth in roughly 50 years earth time, 6 billion years sun time.

E.B. is the head of an aerospace company, and he manages to turn this into being the head of the government department responsible for researching the Spin. Jason goes to work for this company, while Tyler becomes a doctor and Diane runs off with a bunch of hippies. Not your regular brand of commie trash hippies though, these hippies are part of a religious movement that's sprung up around the Spin. Some of the movement think the Spin is the Second Coming, some think it's the Rapture, some think that a blood red calf needs to be sacrificed on the Mount in Israel.

Anyways, Tyler ends up working as the staff doctor, and thus we have our connection to Jason and what's happening with the Spin. Jason and his group attempt to find out what the Spin is, and what they can do to stop it. They consider attacking it, sending missions to Mars (where time isn't slowed down, so a manned mission to Mars could pass 3 month on Earth, while in Mars time it would be 50,000 years, giving the Martians all kinds of time to research).

Spin is an example of what good science fiction can be. The big idea (the spin) exists not to dazzle us with science, or even how kewl it is, but rather to show us what happens to these characters, and to the world, when they're presented with something beyond comprehension. Spin follows Jason, Diane, Tyler and world as they adapt to a complete change in their lives: will they devote themselves to science, accept this change in circumstances stoically, or turn to faith and spirituality? Are these the rights choices, wrong choices, or just choices? How would the world have played out differently without the spin... would Tyler and Diane advance to more than friends, or would they still have their odd quasi-friendly relationship?

The last novel I read by Wilson was The Chronoliths, which dealt with a similar theme: how do people react when their world is turned upside down?

This is one of those books that evokes the nostalgia of days gone past. You can't help but think that Jason, Tyler and Diane wish all their heart and soul that they could be in their backyard, watching the stars again, before the spin. All the hoops they jump through, jobs they work, faiths they try, people they love, it's all just an attempt to re-created the magic that exists when 3 12 year olds sit outside on a summer night and watch the stars.

Thus far, this has my vote for the Hugo. I haven't been able to find a copy of the MacLeod book yet, but I’m going to check when I'm in Toronto next week, at the science fiction bookstore. And I'm still hoping that someone will review the George RR Martin book for me.