Enough people have recommended that I read Kim Stanley Robinson’s The Years of Rice and Salt that it’s surprising that it’s taken me as long as it has to finally get around to it.
This was my first of his books, I hadn’t read the Mars Trilogy, so as with any new author I wasn’t sure what to expect from it; especially since I’d been warned that in style it was fairly different from his other work, and that it also had slow parts that would take a bit of getting through.
All the reviews and recommendations were glowing though, praising the re-invention of a world without the influence of Christian Europe and the epic scope of the story across the ages.
Unfortunately mine isn’t. I can’t recall a novel that I’ve struggled through as much as this one. I kept at it hoping for a grand denouement that would explain the praise lavished on it, but that never happened. As ridiculous as it sounds, the book’s grand ending was a chapter explaining the style the book was written in, and the grand reveal was a cute schtick it had used throughout and that anyone with half a brain would have figured out within the first hundred pages.
Yes, the world building was clever and thorough; but I read a lot, especially Science-Fiction and Fantasy, and good world building is de rigour in the best works of those genres. A novel needs some other story or message beyond the world itself.
And if Kim Stanley Robinson had a point or message with this book, it was entirely lost on me. A novel set in a world without Western culture would provide ample opportunity to take a critical look at that culture, and say something about ourselves, but instead it ignores it and focuses itself on Islamic and Chinese culture and finds many faults therein.
A novel in which reincarnation plays such a significant part would provide ample opportunity to consider mortality, or the eternal struggle to better ourselves, but the book doesn’t go there either and instead if anything suggests futility as the central characters manage to be responsible for every significant scientific breakthrough throughout history without ever changing in themselves.
Maybe the central message was just supposed to be that all people and cultures are ultimately the same, that we all make the same mistakes and share the same victories, but even then it tries hard to avoid saying any such thing.
Honestly, as far as I could tell, the only significant point the author wanted to make was that San Francisco should have been built on the North side of the Golden Gate and not the South. He makes that point a lot!
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆