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Spin

Reviewed by Galen Strickland

I have a few negative things to say about this book, although I'll have to be careful not to spoil the story too much while I get into that. This is a good book, just not a great one. Wilson's strength, at least here, is in his characters, but I have to argue about his choice of technique in the story's execution. It is fairly common today in TV and film that the story begins at some suspenseful crisis point then flashes back to the events that led up to that crisis. Wilson uses that approach here, but I think it would have been better if he had told it in a straight, linear fashion. I'm also afraid that the title is a bit too appropriate, even if it doesn't adequately describe the phenomenon at the center of the plot.

If it had been linear, it would have began sometime in the very near future, on a lawn of a suburban Washington D.C. home, on a clear and moonless night. The three main protagonists, Tyler Dupree (the story's narrator) and his two best friends, the twins Jason and Diane Lawton, have escaped the house during a cocktail party, and are star-gazing. They are alarmed when the sky suddenly goes black, as if all the stars had been extinguished at once. Jason tries to alert his father to the situation, but E. D. Lawton can't be bothered when he is trying to talk to many influential government and business officials. The impact of what has happened is not realized until the next morning, as the world discovers almost all communications are dead, since there seems to be some barrier blocking satellite signals. This barrier becomes known as the Spin Membrane. Who or what put it there, how and why, is not fully understood for many years, either thirty or so, or a hundred thousand years, depending on how you look at it.

Several satellite probes are launched through the membrane, but they seemingly drop back to Earth in just a matter of minutes. When data recorded by the satellites is reviewed however, it appears that time is moving much more rapidly outside the membrane than is the case on Earth. I'm not going into any more detail on the plot. As I mentioned earlier, Wilson shines in character moments. Each are well detailed and identifiable, and most are sympathetic. Jason is a brilliant young math and science whiz, whom is father is grooming for bigger and better things. Diane is the neglected sibling, both by her father since she does not exhibit her brother's intelligence, also by her alcoholic mother. Tyler is their less affluent friend, whose mother is the Lawton's main housekeeper. Her late husband had been a business partner of Lawton's before a tragic auto accident. The details of their lives, their fortunes and misfortunes, would have been equally at home in a contemporary novel (or a television soap opera).

This is also one of the book's faults. At times I wasn't sure if Wilson wanted this to be a character piece or a dazzling glimpse into galaxy-spanning metaphysics. What I meant about the title being appropriate is that the action revolves back and forth between events toward the end of the story and the characters' lives in the post-Spin world, focusing on their personal lives as much as how they are reacting to the earth-shaking phenomenon. The book is longer than necessary to tell this first part of the story, with several segments skipping over quite a few years' time. I know a lot of this sounds like I didn't like the book, but that's not true. While I did put it aside for several weeks after reading more than halfway, the concluding chapters were much better than what had gone before. I was surprised by the eventual reveal of the force behind the Spin, which is something that doesn't happen often these days, so kudos to Wilson for that achievement.

Yes, there have been sequels, but at least one of them might not have been necessary if Wilson had tightened up the narrative in the first book. I'm not sure if the sequels were an afterthought as Spin grew longer and longer, or if they were planned in advance. Axis was published in 2007, nearly two and a half years afterwards, and not only is it shorter by page count, the font size is much bigger. Vortex was not released until mid-2011. Not having read these two I can't say if there may be more to the series in the future. I have Axis, and while I'm not sure what I'll be reading next, it won't be at the top of the list. But don't let that discourage you from taking a Spin, it may suit your tastes much more than mine.

Related Links:
Robert Charles Wilson's Official Site

 

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Author
Robert Charles Wilson

Published
2005

Awards
Hugo

Available from amazon.com