"Money was maliciously introduced in ancient times as a tool of enslavement" -
Michael Tellinger

"The present belongs to the future and future generations, and all old laws, religious and other, should be abrogated immediately. Free us!" - Vinay Gupta on Twitter

"You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete." - R. Buckminster Fuller

"You find the strangest ways to be positive!" - Diane Duane, Wizards Abroad

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Years of Rice and Salt (book review)

The Years of Rice and Salt by Kim Stanley Robinson (2002)
If you're like me and constantly trying to make sense of history and human nature, here's a nifty allegorical (or perhaps literal) way to do that: karma and reincarnation in different times and cultures. I like Jo Walton's retrospective review quoted in Wikipedia: "It’s probably the book of his I’ve re-read most frequently, because I keep trying to decide what I think of it." I'm kind of the same way. It's a brain-full of book, but I basically loved it for its vast perspective and wisdom, and often over the years find myself reminded of it by this or that big issue or event. The following review is adapted from the short one I wrote for SLJ:

In this alternative version of the history of the modern world, the bubonic plague kills almost all of the Europeans in the fourteenth century, and the West never recovers. The major world powers thereafter are Islam and China, and the major religions are Islam (in various forms) and Buddhism. Many other peoples, including Hindus, Sikhs, Japanese, and Yingzhou (from the New World) also play significant parts.

Robinson's alternate history encompasses familiar parallels to our own: the discovery of the Americas, religious strife and cultural breakthroughs, political tyranny and devastating world war, scientific renaissance, technological wonders, and the pursuit of happiness. But as these developments are seen through the lens of different cultures, the reader is given a new perspective on what we take for granted about the world we think we know.

Though Robinson's alternate world is vast and complex, its history is experienced by readers on a human scale, through the colorful and vivid tales of individual people. In interlinked stories, through the centuries, they live and die in startlingly different ways, yet there is an underlying structure. And the characters remain familiar to the reader because they are the same group of souls, reincarnated in different places and times.

After death, and before rebirth, the characters meet in the Bardo, where they are judged (I had the hardest time with this part; I didn't quite "get" where the demons fit in with the otherwise very clearheaded view of reality, but maybe I'll catch what that's about in my next reading...), and then they are off on other adventures--again struggling to make progress in their "years of rice and salt" on Earth. This is an addictive, surprising, and suspenseful novel about characters and a world whose fate came to matter considerably to this reader.

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As always -- one of many things I really love about this writer -- Robinson shows great empathy for humanity, yet clearly examines and articulates the chronic and often appalling mistakes our species is prone to make.

1 comment:

donna l stuart said...

C
Wow. good for you, chris.

You have a lot of content, all very interesting, even inspiring.

I skimmed some to the bk review s, to examine more thoroughly later. i wish I could read them all.

If you or Cindy find a long white dish with a yellow border, I will come pick it up.

What a delightful party. Your generousity is remarkable and inspiring. Do I see links with your
experiences in India?

Are those movie comments Yours?

As the New Year approaches, I am freshly reminded of people like you whohelped me when David had his trials last winter. Your help wisth email contact was invaluable.

Blest wishes