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Hardcover The Years of Rice and Salt Book

ISBN: 0553109200

ISBN13: 9780553109207

The Years of Rice and Salt

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With the incomparable vision and breathtaking detail that brought his now-classic Marstrilogy to vivid life, bestselling author KIM STANLEY ROBINSON boldly imagines an alternate history of the last seven hundred years. In his grandest work yet, the acclaimed storyteller constructs a world vastly different from the one we know.... The Years of Rice and Salt It is the fourteenth century and one of the most apocalyptic events in human history is set...

Customer Reviews

5 ratings

A fascinating alternate history

This is a complex and challenging novel, covering a group of related characters through multiple lifetimes, over centuries from about 1400 to the present, in an elaborate alternate history in which the black plague almost completely wiped out the population of Europe, preventing the rise of European culture and religion to world dominance. Definitely not a lite read; it takes effort to follow Robinson's alternate history, accompanied by alternate geography and chronology. But readers who have a taste for serious and thoughtful SF will be rewarded for their efforts. Some highlights from the alternate history: (Contains some spoilers for early sections) about 1400, a mutated and incredibly potent version of the black plague wipes out most of Europe, eliminating it as a political or military force. Christianity is eliminated as a civilization, and the later events are dominated by Chinese and Islamic culture. Muslims, some of them refugees from mainstream Islam, gradually repopulate Europe. Meanwhile, a Ming expedition, outfitted to invade Japan, gets caught in a strong Eastern current, misses Japan entirely, and winds up in San Francisco Bay. The expedition is still very much a success, especially when it travels South and discovers the rich mines of Peru. A later Chinese fleet succeeds in conquering Japan. A group of reformist Muslims, chased by more traditional sects, sails west from Normandy and discovers Manhattan. The Iriquois federation, becoming aware of the presence of alien cultures on both the West and East coasts, forms the North American tribes into a great union, capable of keeping the outsiders largely restricted to the coasts and holding the interior of the continent. There is more, covering alternate histories of the Industrial Revolution, WWI, and the dicovery of fission, up to an age that look like roughly the present, with increasing global cooperation and, presumably, an alternate Francis Fukuyama to announce the End of Alternate History. At key events in this timeline, we meet repeatedly the same group of people, recognized by keeping the same initials. The key figures are: B - A spiritual seeker, frequently a Buddhist clergyman. I - A scientist or intellectual, fascinated with acquiring knowledge. K - The activist of the group, at first seeking revenge, at other times power, and ultimately social transformation. All of these are followed through various lives and deaths, meeting up repeatedly in the Bardo, the between life area of judgment from Tibetan Buddhism. There are some minor accompanying characters, such as S, which is generally a feckless or irresponsible person, often of considerable authority, but these are the main ones. Robinson has created numerous striking characters from these broad templates: a soldier in Tamerlane's army who ultimately becomes a slave in China, a protective tiger, a servant boy caught in the floods of a Chinese California, a young woman growing up in post-war Islamic France,

Staggering, poignant, immense, personal

Let me start by saying that I'm not generally a fan of Kim Stanley Robinson's work. I loved Red Mars, then stumbled through Green Mars and gave up in disgust at Blue Mars. I found they were filled with exposition and endless descriptions of landscapes, and I really didn't like the fact that the main characters stuck it out through three novels instead of allowing more interesting characters to take their place.I felt drawn to The Years of Rice and Salt, even though the same annoyances seemed present. That being said, if like me you were burnt by Blue Mars but are intrigued by the premise of this book - do yourself a favor and pick it up. It's a work of staggering immensity, yet such a personal and touching novel that one wonders how historical scope and intimate drama could ever be weaved together so finely. The "immortality" of the main characters, while a mere plot device in the Mars trilogy, is at the core of the theme of Years of Rice and Salt : it speaks of the role of individuals in History, of how individual actions and lives weave the tapestry of History, and how the dramas of daily lives influence and are influenced by the unfolding twists and turns of Humanity. The individual lives it depicts are poignant, and play superbly against the backdrop of this alternate history where China and Islam are the two major powers of the world. More than a plot device, reincarnation is used here to paint deeply personal portraits of each period of history. Of particular interest is the role that Native Americans play in this alternate history : the way their culture grows and envelops other nations is, I felt, the true tragedy at the heart of Rice and Salt, speaking of squandered opportunities when the West conquered the New World.The novel builds like a puzzle through 11 stages of human history, and what finally emerges is a humanist, ecologist and even feminist tale of compassion, tolerance and hope, something that transcends its alternate history roots to speak of the Heart of Mankind. If it were just for its historical scope, The Years of Rice and Salt would have been an interesting anecdote in the alternate history genre. Instead, this novel is a major achievement that transcends science-fiction, and should stand at the very top of the alternate history genre for years to come, and as Robinson's crowning achievement.

One of the more brilliant books of 2003

While I can see why some found this book boring, and everyone is entitled to his or her own taste, I think that dismissing this book as 'boring' is missing the point.Though billed as an alternate history, I found Robinson's book to be more about the power of the human spirit to endure and evolve despite itself, and with much more attention to philosophical and theological questions than to plot-driven adventures. I found it inspired me to want to know more about actual history, and about the Tibetan Book of the Dead.I enjoyed seeing what incarnations the characters were to take on next - Robinson spells it out for you at first but then he gives you less and less and lets you figure things out on your own. I particularly loved the evolution of the 'K' character and at the moment I would have to say my favorite was the Widow Kang, who inspired at the right time by 'I' character Ibrahim goes on a fascinating intellectual journey. I like the fact that the recurring characters do not always relate to each other in the same way in their many lives and inspire each other in different directions.Robinson presents a sweeping vision which sometimes moves forward as a narrative about two or more recurring characters, other times slows down into philisophical musings. He presents brilliant alternate scenarios of how technological, social, and political movements may have evolved. Yes, the characters always die, but don't we all eventually? I found the ending uplifting because it shows that the cycle goes on. If you're looking for everything to get wrapped up in some whiz-bang conclusion, you will be disappointed. The book is much more sophisticated and subtle than that. The only thing that saddened me at the end was that the book was over and I almost started from the beginning again (instead I passed the book along to my husband who also enjoyed it greatly).I don't think Robinson did anything by accident in this book. Some have pointed out that the style and tone changes from chapter to chapter, which I'm sure was deliberate. Some episodes are more plot-driven and others more philosophy-driven. This worked well I think because he was trying to convey so much history and really this is a huge book to get your head around - I feel like the spots where the plot took a break were a chance for the reader to relax and sink into a different groove.The only real flaw I think was that the author did not include an index of names, places, etc. at the end that one could refer to, because there are so many of them! I would have also liked to see more detailed maps to help better understand exactly where some of the events took place in relation to today's world. I would love to see this in a future edition.

Not surprising misunderstandings

As I read this fine book by Stan Robinson, I was struck by the fact that this is a "love-it/hate-it" book. Those who refuse to look past the surface are going to have a hard time with it. Yes, it does get pretty intense at the end, but personally I like the philosophizing. This isn't just about the reincarnation aspects, or the alternate history aspacets, those are just surface effects. It's about the acceptance of age and grace and growth and advancement. It's about how the world has grown with the growth of the people, the jadi's, that live in it. And it's about how one person and/or one group can make a real change in the world, and how these changes might be reflected throughout one's existence. It covers how the growth of the "jadi" changes from it's wild impetuous, and nearly self-destructive youth up until the jadi has reached it's nirvana. The ultimate quiet and happy acceptance of the reality that what there is "here and now" is what is important, and it's what one does with this that makes a difference. There is really no debate on whether reincarnation is real, it's a debate on the interpretations the living have on the afterlife and how this changes from superstitious and confused belief systems, imposed by the "powers that be", to a more scientific and distant relationship with the universe and with the Spirit, name it what you will. A belief structure that is common in todays world.Stan is talking about OUR universe here, and is talking about the human place within reality. If people find it preachy, then perhaps they are in need of a good preacher, especially of the Koran and the Tibetan Book of the Dead. The fact that most of the technologies, etc., all get invented in more or less the same time period, to me, indicates a belief in historical predilection, ie we are here because this is the ultimate endpoint of our evolution up to this point. It also indicates that his reality isn't intended to be that much different than ours, ie, more or less the same, only without the European/American influences. If everything happened in a different order and at a radically different rate, then the parallels he tries to draw would have been lost.Could he have been more precise on how they got to where they ended up? Yes, but the book is rather long already. Could he have fattened up certain sections, such as the Japanese reconquest, and the time among the Native Americans? Again, yes, but to what purpose? Was the section of the Great War depressing and almost too realistic? Yes, but isn't that war? War is NOT glorious and exciting, it is slogging through mud and finding everything beautiful being destroyed while some nameless bureaucrat decides who will fall next. It's endless hours of boredom, punctuated by sheer moments of terror. Our modern fascination with TV wars and smart bombs makes all seem glamorous, but war is destructive to society and humanity, nevertheless. The gates of delirium.So, like all books it isn't, and doesn't purport t

Robinson's World

Kim Stanley Robinson has done it again. This is a beautifully conceived and written book, with charm, humor, and considerable depth. The reviews, including the editorial review, give too much information - it is best approached as a blank slate, and that includes not looking to closely at the material on the dust jacket. Nonetheless, if you would like to know more:Kim Stanley Robinson revisits the history of the last six hundred years, and rewrites it, fusing Tibetan buddhism with a classic "what-if" scenario. For the sake of simplicity he does not allow his alternate history to diverge too radically from our own, all the way up through World War I. There is however a sentimental streak in Robinson, and he allows common sense just a little more scope at the end than has actually prevailed in the modern world.I did wonder, reading this, who the audience would be. Not everyone who was taken with the Mars Trilogy or the Three Californias would necessarily want to swim in these depths. Robinson does supply a detailed time-line on page 1, and the main calendar in use is the Islamic one, beginning in our 622 A.D.(Though it is a lunar calendar, simply adding 622 to the Islamic date gives a fair approximation to the Christian calendar - and one can always consult the time-line on the first page.)From this point on I'll allow myself some "spoiler" remarks, so if you want to read the book fresh, stop here. The premise is that the European plague of 1347-1349 mutated and wiped out the bulk of Europe half a century later. The history that follows on this is both political and intellectual/scientific/technological, and the latter seems to drive the former. To take a specific example: the Galilean discoveries obviously don't take place in Europe. Instead, they occur in Samarqand, at about the same period. This is an interesting choice, and indicative of Robinson's method. He refers to the observatory at Samarqand, founded by Ulugh Beg. This was in fact a major scientific center; indeed, it was the birthplace back in the fourteenth century of the system of decimal fractions we all use today. What this illustrates is that Robinson has in general taken small details of our own history and transferred them intact to his parallel history, while transposing the main political and scientific events substantially.Robinson has crafted his history very thoroughly. He is excellent on the relationship of Quran and hadith, which has the same consequences in his world it has had in ours. Scientific terminology is reinvented - since electricity is a Chinese discovery in his world, it has a Chinese name, rather than the "elektron" of the Greeks. And so on.The net result is that the reader will probably want to pay closer attention to the details than was necessary in the case of the Mars Trilogy. But the story has a great deal of charm - notably the episodes in the Tibetan after-life (oops: between-lives!). Tracking the individual characters through their incarnations
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