Reading

2015 Reading Journey: Spin

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Spin was published during a period when I was in transition across several jobs, involving massive commutes at times, high stress, and more free time than was good for me, none of it around my small children. Since a big chunk of my time was spent away from them from late-2003 to mid-2005, I spent most of that spare time either feeling sorry for myself or trying to distract myself. Reading didn’t work, so I didn’t consume a lot of fiction during this time and most of what I was reading came from the pile of books I still had after leaving book retail several years before. I missed a lot of stuff published from late 2002 running up close to the end of the decade. That started to shift in late 2008 but it took several years to get back into things in a bigger way.

So, Spin.

The book starts off throwing you in off the deep end. Something is really wrong with the world and if we don’t quite understand what it is then we can probably make a good guess from the back cover copy. Great. Make me work a little to figure things out because that will invest me more in the story. Except that then the next fifty or so pages are a flashback. Back to the present for a chapter. Then a bunch more flashback, only a little closer to the present.

This method of storytelling frequently irritates me, and this one did, but not quite in the usual way. A story told mostly in flashbacks is a weak device and usually says either that the author couldn’t pick the story they wanted to tell or doesn’t care enough about the story originally presented as the primary. If you have to tell most of the story as a flashback, that’s the story you’re actually telling and you should put the rest in its own section or leave it out.

In Spin, the flashbacks are slowly, through the course of the entire book, catching up to the present until they converge in the last few pages. What that means to me is the last quarter of the originally more linearly-told story has been broken up and sprinkled through the book. Based on the way hints are dropped in the non-flashback chapters, it seems like that’s the way the book was originally designed. It’s almost like there was an editorial choice to deliberately misinterpret the old saw, “start the story as close to the ending as possible”, or maybe to increase the tension through longer delays in cliff-hanger resolution.

Told in the first person, we have an internal view of the protagonist’s head and how he’s experiencing the events of the story. The thing is, that protagonist is almost a Vulcan. His own emotional reactions are fairly limited, almost exclusively internal. This is by design, and it’s a combination of the character’s personality and how he’s adapted to the world situation the story puts him (and the rest of the human race) in. But it does make him harder to care about than some of the characters seen through his eyes.

The story itself is full of interesting ideas, which I’ll throw a few of in here, hopefully without spoiling things much, and let you wonder how this can come together in a single book. And these are not just throwaway bits of information in a future environment, but relevant, important items and events in the plot.

  • Closing off the Earth in a time bubble that accelerates it through the universe at 100 million years or so for every year that passes inside the bubble.
  • Terraforming and colonizing Mars.
  • Anti-aging drugs.
  • Artificial life stretching neural nets across the galaxy. Two kinds.
  • Related to that, unknown aliens with incomprehensible motivations and methods.
  • Instantaneous travel across unknown light years of space.
  • New religions and spin offs.
  • The same old governments in a new light.

There’s a lot going on.

Overall rating: 3 Stars. I enjoyed the read but every time I had to switch time frames, I also had to avoid rolling my eyes, and that made the switches made for very easy places to put the book down or switch to something else, which I think is the opposite of what you normally want your cliff-hangars to do. It ends in a way that resolves the primary storyline but clearly leaves things open for future stories to be told in the same setting, a whole new world, or two, opening up.

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