Spin – Robert Charles Wilson (2005)
‘The time is the day after tomorrow and three adolescents – Diane and Jason Lawton, twins, and their best friend, Tyler Dupree – are out stargazing. thus they witness the erection of a planet-spanning shield around the globe, blocking out the universe. ‘Spin’ chronicles the next 30-odd years in the lives of the trio, during which 300 billion years will pass outside the shield, thanks to an engineered time discontinuity. Jason, a genius, will invest his celibate life in unravelling cosmological mysteries. Tyler will become a doctor and act as our narrator and Jason’s confidante, while nursing his unrequited love for Diane, who in turn plunges into religious fanaticism. Along the way, human-descended Martians will appear, bringing a drug that can elevate human to the Fourth State, ‘an adulthood beyond adulthood.’ But will even this miracle be enough to save Earth?…
Here’s a book that features speculative conceits as brash and thrilling as those found in any space opera, along with insights into the human condition as rich as those contained within any mainstream mimetic fiction, with both its conceits and insights beautifully embedded in crystalline prose.
The Washington Post;’
main blurb from the 2006 Tor paperback edition.
Wilson’s work is regularly nominated for awards, and rightly so. He writes dense, complex novels in which the scientific elements and the characterisation are both admirably dealt with. His novels are generally character driven and here we find a trio of people who grew up together, brother and sister Jason and Diane, and their friend Tyler.
One night, when they were still teenagers, they witnessed the stars disappearing. A shell had appeared around the Earth, along with a false sun that rose and set just as the old one did.
Jason’s father, ED Lawton, an important businessman with US government contacts, immediately creates a plan to replace the satellites which were lost when the enclosure occurred.
It becomes clear that the sphere is neither a barrier nor an inert shell. Outside, time is running at a different rate and Jason, (who is a physics genius) calculates that within 50 years our sun will have come to the next stage of its life and expanded beyond the orbit of the Earth. In order to employ this knowledge against The Hypotheticals (as the possible aliens who may have erected the sphere have been named) a plan is hatched to fire rockets at Mars loaded with bacteria, algae and lichens that exist in extreme climates. Thus, we could create a habitable Mars within weeks as millions of years of evolution would have taken place outside the sphere.
Then we send a human colony.
The reality of this is proven very quickly, since a hundred thousand years passes on Mars and a human civilisation emerges, one which sends an emissary to Earth. However, while en route, Mars itself acquires a black shell identical to earth’s.
The Martians bring details of technology and medicine far in advance of our own. Jason and Tyler are working against time on two fronts, to keep Jason alive, since he is suffering a crippling variant of MS, and to understand the physics of the Spin in order to save Humanity.
The narrative is split between two timelines, one dating from the advent of The Spin, and leaping forward in years. The other is set in Tyler’s future where he is suffering the effects of a Martian drug which extends human life through nanotechnology rebuilding the cells of the body.
It’s a powerful and moving novel featuring damaged characters to a greater or lesser extent. Jason and Diane’s father, ED Lawson, is a control freak and openly despises those he considers below his social level. Jason is the tool he moulds to inherit his mantle, blind to the fact that Jason must at some time supplant him. Tyler, who has always been in love with Diane, stands by as she gets deeply involved with an Armageddon cult. Jason’s mother is an alcoholic, perhaps driven to drink by her husband’s dispassionate singlemindedness.
Along the way they have other relationships, but the three main characters remain inexorably bound by the love they have for each other.
Structurally Tyler is the middle ground between science and religion, acting as both narrator and confidante of both Jason and Diane.
As in ‘The Chronoliths’ the issue of father and son relationships is a central theme, although here, unlike ‘The Chronoliths’, the human drama is well-balanced against the backdrop of vast science and forces beyond anyone’s control.