Saturday, December 23, 2006

SPIN by Robert Charles Wilson

I finished SPIN a few days ago, and I forgot to mention what I thought (as I had brought it up in a previous post).

Well, it blew me away. I hated having to break off reading to do necessary errands or grooming or sleep. And I hated that I'd eventually get to the end and it'd be over. I was torn.

A remarkable novel told skillfully in prose that is clean and well-crafted and that frequently rises to a place of stunning vividness and beauty. I give Wilson credit for using utterly perfect metaphors. Sometimes--you know how it is--you're reading and a metaphor is so odd or jarring that it stops you cold, sometimes with a grimace. Not Wilson. He is in complete charge of his sentences. When they rise, they do so effortlessly and when they descend, you're left a little breathless for a second. Gorgeous.

He also does not sacrifice characterization in the pursuit of scientific dazzle or cute ideas. He handles both the science plot and his engaging, sympathetic (and even less sympathetic) characters with depth and nimbleness. They are not perfect people, but they are good and needy and terrified. And they are believable.

I am avocado with envy.

The plot and allusions are smartly handled HERE, so I'll let you get the synopsis fix there. I'll say briefly that it's a story about three young protagonists who watch the stars go out one night, and the long journey to discover the why and what and who even as they deal in their own ways with growing up and accepting or fighting against a looming apocalypse. The scientist, the religious zealot (sorta), and the doctor-friend who loves them both and is in love with one.

I will add that there is a character who becomes involved with Christian cults/sects as a response to the astonishing inciting incident of the novel. While Christians are hardly pictured as heroic or admirable in the novel--the scientist is the hero here--there is also not the utter cheap shooting that one comes across now and then in secular SF/horror/etc, where ministers are all abusing or raping someone and religious folks are nutters who want to whip their kids into a blood sausage between picketing gays and grubbing for money. (serenity now...serenity now...) There is a certain sympathy that is shown to people so frightened and seeking for meaning and "an answer" that they fall into weird religious sects (or even not-so-weird ones). I wasn't terribly put off by the depiction of Christians as mostly deluded but well-meaning (it's what I expect from secularists) or just plain useless and naive, if cheerful. At least we're not all out to lynch the scientists and burn the Martians. (One takes one's consolation where one can.)

A really beautifully done novel where the threads of the various plots are woven seamlessly and the flashing back and forth in time is handled with such aplomb that you are not lost in transits. Not once.

A great premise. Three strongly drawn protagonists (and some well-done secondary characters). Believable conflicts. Believable extrapolations (meaning even if you--or I--aren't up on our science we can believe that these actions are feasible and yield results). Complicated human relationships. Action and suspense. Some romance. Good dialogue. A sense of wonder at the cosmos. This story merited its HUGO AWARD.

The ending is uplifting and magical, even, though this is real science fiction and not a fantasy novel. I think any of you who picks up SPIN will find quite a lot to enjoy, even if science fiction is not your usual cup of tea. The human drama is so compelling that lovers of good, dramatic general fiction will have a grand time.

If you want to study a novel to see how to handle shifts in time and a complex plot that works out through various decades, to learn how to weave in science in interesting ways that relate to character, to make a looming apocalypse seem more than an occasion for over-the-top heroes and hysteria--or flat prose and ho-hum protagonists--then read this with an analytical eye.


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