Mass Market Paperback, 458 pages
Published February 7th 2006 by Tor Science Fiction (first published April 2005)
I don’t venture far out of my comfort zone often. I’ve been burnt a few too many times, and been left feeling like I needed to stick to what I knew and loved. However, in books as in life, you never know what new passion you’ve been unintentionally avoiding – much like finally trying pho a decade ago, finally listening to proper European metal music, or more recently finally reading Dune, I did not know what I’d been missing by operating on preconceived notions of what something was, or what I personally thought I liked. I’d been dodging what I viewed as more ‘traditional’ sci-fi works; the type of novel that I interpreted as too stuffy, too focused on the science and less focused on traditional story pillars: people and events.
Sometimes, as I was with Dune, I am very, very wrong in making these assumptions, and the payoff when I finally wake the hell up is more than worth it. As it was true with Dune, it is more than true in Spin, a novel that I – spoiler alert – fucking adored.
I picked Spin almost by coincidence – I’d added his Hugo-nominated novel, Julian Comstock: A Story of 22nd Century America to my to-read list a couple years ago, around the time I played the eerily-similar Bioshock Infinite, and was in the mood for that kind of thing. I’d seen RCW’s name around – if you pay any attention to the SFF world, you can’t really miss him, and his Hugo nominations had given me some reason to pay attention. After noting that Spin had won best novel Hugo – beating out George Martin’s A Feast for Crows and John Scalzi’s utterly brilliant Old Man’s War, I kind of wondered whether there was something fishy with this kind of vote, or if RCW really had chops.
Reading Spin answered all of that for me.
Spin follows Tyler Dupree. At 10 years old, Tyler, along with his best friends – twins Diane and Jason Lawton – witness as the spin occurs. A sudden shade appears over the world, and blots out the sky. Before long, the scientists of the world determine what has occurred – a mysterious ‘membrane’ has encapsulated earth, and while time passes as normal within said membrane, outside the membrane in space, 3.17 years pass for every second within the membrane – 100 million years per earth year. Tyler is quickly wrapped up in the drama when childhood friend, and genius, Jason, brings him along as a special campus physician to the NASA-competing Parahelion, largely run by Jason’s cunning father, E.D. Lawton. Jason’s twin sister, Diane, was Tyler’s love interest since they were children, and following the introduction of the Spin, goes the opposite direction of her brother – enlisting in a radical Christian sect called the New Kingdom.
The novel follows Tyler as he works with Jason, slowly discovering more and more of the secrets surrounding the spin, as well as slowly continuing to pursue Diane, whom he loves but has moved on to a different mindset and lifestyle. As more and more details of the spin emerge, Tyler watches as Parahelion launches a project aimed to terraform Mars in an attempt to turn it into a habitable world for humans to escape to, taking advantage of the advancing speed of time outside the spin membrane, and eventually are visited by a Martian represntative, Wun Ngo Wen, a product of the terraforming of Mars that is hundreds of thousands of years old, despite being only a few years old in earth years.
The spin situation continues to evolve and change over time, as do the interpersonal and political issues that Tyler is wrapped up in, the least of which being his relationship with his beloved Diane, who has latched herself onto her husband Simon, a firm and devout follower of the New Kingdom and it’s various iterations. As things begin to erode and the seeming-end of the world approaches, Tyler scrambles to help where he can, assist Jason in his fight to push towards progress and fight against his father, E.D., who is more inclined to a conservative approach and align with the more conservative politicians regarding the approach to the spin.
As someone who does not read an excessive amount of scifi, Spin was innovative, creative, and very well thought out. I am not one for the hard-science of books – I noticed a lot of my mutual friends who read this novel gave negative marks for the book not focusing more heavily on the science and repercussions, but for me that was a benefit. The novel had brilliant characters, and a creative and interesting view of the consequences and repercussions, and a more than adequate amount of science, whether that be regarding the logistics of the spin, the cause-effect on the world, and the limitations of the science surrounding the actions earth could take. I’m obviously not a PhD in any science field, but everything seemed to pass the sniff-test for someone who is educated but not particularly versed in this area.
The characters in the novel were brilliant, as was the interplay between them – there were an indescribable number of heart-wrenching scenes, of moments of drama, heartbreak, desire, love, hurt, loss, humor, growth, of humanity. People acted predictably in the face of unexpected horror and unknowing future, and the main characters were no different, facing the oncoming end of the world as well as their own interpersonal issues, both relating to their proximity to the people “in the know” about the spin and not.
In the end, Spin was one of the few novels I’ve read in recent years to hook me as hard, to move me as much, and to get really any kind of emotional reaction from me. I was hooked from the early parts, unable to stop reading, unable to stay away from this world for very long. I was shocked by how interesting I found the scenario, how fascinated I was by the characters and dialogue, and surprised how upset I was when the novel ended, despite the more-than-satisfactory explanation at the end.
Spin was, simply put, one of my favorite novels that I’ve ever read. It’s probably the first true entry into my top 20 in two years, and a novel that I feel like I will recommend to many friends. I’ve read many reviews of the book, both positive and negative, both strangers and people I trust, and views on this novel seem to vary wildly. For me, it was every bit deserving of a Hugo win, as I felt it was a revolutionary novel, executed brilliantly, with a problem and story backbone to stand the test of time, and the writing chops to back it up.