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The Years of Rice and Salt

Posted by phduffy on 2004-07-28 19:30:43
2 forum posts
Kim Stanley Robinson wrote the Mars trilogy - Red Mars, Green Mars and Blue Mars. These books are pretty well known in sf circles. Some people love them, some people think they have some wonky economics, but if you're into sf you've probably heard of them.

However, this novel (The Years of Rice and Salt) is not a sf novel. Well, maybe it is, but I'll get to that later. This novel is an alternate history. What's alternate about this history, you may be asking yourself (insert interobang here). If this novel the Black Plague kills 99% of Europe, not 33%. So the novel follows the development of Asia and the Muslim world.

The novel is split into 11 parts, spread over history. One of the gimmick's is that each story follows the same characters as they're reincarnated. The characters don't remember that they've been reincarnated, but they do have similar personalities each time.

I felt that this book started out well but peaked too early, and failed to hold my interest as it went on. The best stories are the ones that involve the characters being important in history. Such as discovering the New World or advising Kings.
The less interesting stories involve the character debating the merits of the varios religions (Muslim, Bhuddism, Hindu, Confucism). If I want a philosophy book I'll buy one, I don't want it to be this heavy handed in a novel.

I mentioned that this novel is alternate history and not sf. Now, alternate history is usually associated with fantasy. However, I think that it is more closely associated with sf. Sf is all about ideas, particularly hard sf. You take a cool idea and see what the ramifications are. That's what alternate history is, what if everyone died in the plague, what if the Greek empire hadn't collapsed, etc.

Reading this novel also made me realize that I now prefer novels with one narative flow. Perhaps this is my ever shrinking attention span or perhaps it's something else. I recently read Excessions by Iain M BAnks, which changes point of view characters from chapter to chapter. When I switch to a new chapter or story and it's from a different point of view I feel as though I've lost my energy to read, and I become deflated.

So, future authors! If you're going to write a novel, don't keep switching points of view. At least if you want me to love it anyway.

So this was a decent but not great novel.

FOR THE CHILDREN:

An 8 year old slave is castrated on a boat.
  2 forum posts