Author: Robert Charles Wilson
“Stick out your arms, straight out at your sides. Left index finger to right index finger straight across your heart, that’s the history of the Earth. You know what human history is? Human history is the nail on your right-hand index finger. Not even the whole nail. Just that little white part. The part you clip off when it gets too long. That’s the discovery of fire and the invention of writing and Galileo and Newton and the moon landing and 9/11 and last week and this morning. Compared to evolution we’re newborns. Compared to geology, we barely exist.” (pg 164)
This is a novel that in the beginning takes our entire future as a race and pushes it into a few decades. The summary on the back from the New York Times does not do it justice.
What I particularly enjoy about this book is how it explores how we, as a race, react to a disaster which will slowly destroy us all. The fact that this story is a global one makes it very interesting, seamlessly covering religious fanatics to the panicing mobs to the apathetic waiting to die. In many ways it seems to be an analogous problem to Global Warming, and I oftened wondered if this was a deliberate theme.
The book is not perfectly written, though. The narration at times becomes a bit choppy, changing from a passive first person narrative to something sounding like a letter addressed specifically to the reader. This might make sense—there is a mention that the main character tries to write a memoir—but we are never told that this is what we’re reading, and such passages are so sporadic and inconsistent that it doesn’t seem likely.
Wilson at times shows a flair for descriptive language, but again not in such a way that I was blown away by his writing. There were at least a couple phrases that I thought were quite clever. He loses points, though, for referencing Stranger in a Strange Land (which I thought was a terrible book) even if it did make me chuckle.
What was missing was some sense of an overall meaning. Though the style and depth of plot was on par with any other good SF, I found it lacking in depth of theme. Aside from the possible global warming analogy, is there a story here greater than simple futurism (as interesting as it is)? There are attempts at pulling thematic ideas together, such through the use of the line, “we all fall, and we all land somewhere,” though it is difficult to see exactly how this is supposed to tie into the story. Is he merely talking about the inevitability of our deaths?
Though certainly better than your average bubble-head fiction, it is not at the same level as the very best sci fi.