Saturday, July 04, 2009

The Years Of Rice And Salt

Review: Kim Stanley Robinson - The Years Of Rice And Salt

I'll be the first to admit I struggled with this book. Not sure if it
wasn't quite what I was expecting, or if the musings on religion were a bit more than I wanted but some days I found it hard to get through more than a couple of pages. But, I did enjoy it in the end and find the concept to be superb.

As the cover blurb says, imagine a world without Europe. Not
physically of course, just with all those Europeans killed off by the
plague and the rest of the world left to develop without them. What we end up with is a series of connected stories covering over a thousand years of alternate history. Robinson weaves an immense tapestry but focuses on the minor details and everyday lives of those involved. Some the great and the good, others simple village folk but all aspects of the same group of souls undergoing constant re-incarnations. Taken as a whole, they tell a tell of staggering scope, but each individual tale drags you in to a new aspect of the world each of which could probably have been sustained over a longer stand-alone tale. I particularly enjoyed the Alchemist of Sammarkand and think I may well seek out some more Arabian-set fiction in the future.

There are many small insights into the world of the story and the real world scattered through the book. One (which of course I can't find now in order to quote it!) deals with history and what does and doesn't get recorded. The theme there is that only the bigger picture survives, with the mundanity of real life lost in the mists. The book is only a few years old, but that made me wonder if the same thing would apply with millions of people adding their daily doings to the web in blogs.

I don't pretend to have understood all of the deeper passages, particularly on the meanings of religion and philosophy but I will read it again one of these years and maybe I'll have increased my knowledge through other sources by then.