David Louis Edelman David Louis Edelman

Robert Charles Wilson’s “Spin”

This is the absolute wrong time to be posting a review of Robert Charles Wilson’s Spin.

Robert Charles Wilson's 'Spin'If I wanted to be timely, I should have read the book in early 2005 when it first came out. Or I should have read it in the weeks leading up to the voting deadline for the Hugo Award (for which Spin is nominated). At the very least, I should have read the book and written my review before you’d already read a hundred others.

But I’m going to review the book now anyway, and it’s entirely appropriate I should do so. Partly because, well, I just finished it and I do things on my own pace at this blog. But also because Robert Charles Wilson’s Spin is a book about second chances.

It’s a book about the dreams you had in your youth that you never pursued — traveling around the world, going to college, telling that special girl that you loved her — and learning to live with your choices. It’s about learning to grow older and be satisfied with the x, y, and z coordinates you’ve staked out in the cosmos. It’s about spiritual renewal in the face of death and the infinite.

As for the characters in Spin, they don’t need a metaphor for death; it’s staring them right in the face, in the form of a giant membrane that’s suddenly surrounded the Earth and occluded the stars. This membrane (called the Spin) not only acts as a physical shield but as a temporal one as well, because time is suddenly passing at a rate thousands of times faster outside the shield than inside it. And now an entire generation is unexpectedly confronted with the problem of how to escape the imminent extinction of the sun, along with the entire human race.

The triad of characters playing against this background include twins Jason and Diane Lawton and their companion Tyler Dupree, our narrator. Only teens when the Spin first descends on the Earth, they spend the next thirty years of their lives attempting to come to terms with this apparent death sentence for the human race. Jason disappears into the halls of scientific research; Diane loses herself in a variety of ecstatic religious movements; and Tyler performs a desperate balancing act between them.

If you got a sour look on your face during that synopsis, thinking that Spin is some tedious exercise in How We Need to Value Both the Heart and the Mind, don’t worry. Spin is much, much more than a one-dimensional parable.

In fact, Spin works on so many symbolic levels at once that it’s truly dizzying. In addition to the obvious science-vs.-religion conflict, there’s the Spin as metaphor for environmental catastrophe; the Spin as metaphor for Biblical apocalypse; the Spin as political crisis and/or opportunity; the Spin as metaphor for under- or overprotective parent; and the Spin as metaphor for our inescapable mortality.

And let’s not forget the Spin as jumping-off point for a plethora of gee-whiz science fictional ideas. Self-replicating von Neumann machines, viral consciousness, intersteller terraforming, rapid human evolution, a drug-induced Fourth State of “adulthood beyond adulthood” — everything a science fiction geek could want.

Not to mention unrequited love (multiple cases), rich intergenerational family conflict, anti-government paranoia, and the occasional flurry of action, too.

That’s not to say that the book is perfect. Wilson’s prose is lyrical, calm, and rarely ostentatious, but the dialogue occasionally lacks verve. His pacing could use a bit of tweaking, given that Spin‘s frame story only meets up with the main narrative in a hurried bit of exposition in the book’s final pages. And Wilson uses the jarring trick of ending a frame story chapter with an act of violence or surprise a little too often.

But these are minor quibbles for a book that works on levels both far-reaching and intimate at once. It’s a difficult balance to get right, but with Spin, Robert Charles Wilson has done it.

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  1. PW on December 3, 2006 at 7:23 pm  Chain link

    are there any books that relate to the aspect of choices in SPIN.. how each character choses his or her own path.. (due to influences) i need to find a similar book to write a paper for english

  2. David Louis Edelman on December 3, 2006 at 8:43 pm  Chain link

    I’m not sure I understand what you’re after… but how about “Hamlet” and “Macbeth”? Or for something more contemporary, try Paul Auster’s Leviathan.

  3. PhilCon 2006 Wrapup (David Louis Edelman’s Blog) on March 31, 2007 at 4:16 pm  Chain link

    […] of Robert Charles Wilson’s Hugo Award-winning novel Spin on the freebie table. (Read my review.) The guy who got there right before me picked up a first edition hardcover of Old Man’s […]

  4. WorldCon Wrapup (David Louis Edelman’s Blog) on April 5, 2007 at 7:55 am  Chain link

    […] Oh yeah, and I was very pleased that Spin won the Hugo for Best Novel. Not to take anything away from the other nominees, but I felt Spin was the best of the lot. (Though I will sheepishly confess to not having read the Ken Macleod. Yet.) For more of my thoughts in depth, read my review of Spin. […]

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