Review: Spin by Robert Charles Wilson

Revelation Space

Spin by Robert Charles Wilson

Tor, 2005

Off the bat I can tell you that my favorite part of Spin was that the science fiction aspect of the novel was told from a very human perspective. In many ways one might even look at Spin, especially in its earlier chapters, as a disaster novel. Much of the narrative concerns itself with the humanity-wide notion of grief; how we, as a species, copes with the inevitable death of our planet.

Wilson’s novel examines the relationship of the main characters: the Lawton twins, Jason and Diane, and their friend Tyler Dupree (the true central character) as they each cope with the titular spin effect. Tyler, our main narrator, touches on the nature of friendship, religion, life, death, and love as he carefully winds through the history of his relationship with both Jason and Diane. While I hardily approve at this deeply personal focus on character over action there are times when I felt that the emotional weight of the story shifted a little too close to melodrama for my liking (the Tyler/Diane aspect). However, I found this somewhat infrequent due mainly to the fact that Wilson was able to use the mystery of the spin effect, and the enigmatic Hypotheticals that created it, to take some of the focus off the more melodramatic moments

Tyler’s narrative switches between current events (labeled by the year in scientific notation) and a recounting of past events and I’m not quite sure where my opinion falls regarding these temporal shifts. On the one hand both sides of the story were engaging, on the other hand Wilson had the annoying tendency to end current sections of narrative with cliffhangers right before diving into lengthy past episodes. This is understandable since revealing too much during current events would spoil events in the past though it was still frustrating.

<EDIT:>  Well having thought the above over I realize that the personal elements of the story would not have worked without the constant shifts in time and place.  I suppose my frustration was mainly a result of the frequent use of cliffhangers at the end of the “current” sections.  There was never a point where I was so frustrated that I wanted to skip over a past section to find out what happened.  In truth the consistent quality of the prose in both sections of the narrative made them rather easy to swallow and certainly served to mollify my own frustration with the aforementioned cliffhangers.</EDIT> 

The science-fiction elements are both well-thought out and fascinating to read, but not so much so that they obstruct the main focus of the book; the characters. Indeed, the science-fiction elements of the story are all discussed in terms of how they might (and do) effect humanity. Overall Wilson’s strong character driven narrative is tautly directed and serves the plot well giving the story a deeply human feel. Spinwas a good read, not fantastic, and a worthy addition to a sci-fi collection. For those interested in attracting new reader it should be noted the Spinoffers a good alternative for fans of disaster fiction, or those who enjoy more mainstream genre fiction (Koontz, King, etc.), to expand their reading habits.

Overall Grade: B+

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