- Mass Market Paperback: 784 pages
- Publisher: Spectra; Reprint edition (June 3 2003)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0553580078
- ISBN-13: 978-0553580075
- Product Dimensions: 10.7 x 3.1 x 17.5 cm
- Shipping Weight: 272 g
- Average Customer Review: 99 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #109,080 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
The Years of Rice and Salt: A Novel Mass Market Paperback – Jun 3 2003
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“A thoughtful, magisterial alternate history from one of science fiction’s most important writers.”—The New York Times Book Review
“Exceptional and engrossing.”—New York Post
“Ambitious . . . ingenious.”—Newsday
PRAISE FOR KIM STANLEY ROBINSON’S Red Mars WINNER OF THE NEBULA AWARD FOR BEST NOVEL
“A tremendous achievement.”—The Washington Post Book World
“An absorbing novel . . . a scientifically informed imagination of rare ambition at work.”—The New York Times Book Review
“Promises to become a classic . . .This is epic science fiction in the best sense of the term–thoughtful, provoking, and haunting.”—St. Louis Post-Dispatch
From the Inside Flap
With the incomparable vision and breathtaking detail that brought his now-classic Mars trilogy 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 to occur-the coming of the Black Death. History teaches us that a third of Europe's population was destroyed. But what if? What if the plague killed 99 percent of the population instead? How would the world have changed? This is a look at the history that could have been-a history that stretches across centuries, a history that sees dynasties and nations rise and crumble, a history that spans horrible famine and magnificent innovation. These are the years of rice and salt.
This is a universe where the first ship to reach the New World travels across the Pacific Ocean from China and colonization spreads from west to east. This is a universe where the Industrial Revolution is triggered by the world's greatest scientific minds-in India. This is a universe where Buddhism and Islam are the most influential and practiced religions and Christianity is merely a historical footnote.
Through the eyes of soldiers and kings, explorers and philosophers, slaves and scholars, Robinson renders an immensely rich tapestry. Rewriting history and probing the most profound questions as only he can, Robinson shines his extraordinary light on the place of religion, culture, power, and even love on such an Earth. From the steppes of Asia to the shoresof the Western Hemisphere, from the age of Akbar to the present and beyond, here is the stunning story of the creation of a new world.
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We experience the altered centuries not through dry narration, nor through the eyes of a streaming cast of unrelated characters. Instead we learn how the East forms history from a handful of individuals who live, die, and are reborn without awareness of their previous lives. Although their circumstances change, core aspects of their personalities persist across lifetimes--as does their connectedness, their chance to interact and influence each other. In each generation we find our recurring characters and see what they must confront and conquer in themselves. From the patterns across lifetimes--and brief group "meetings" between reincarnations--we absorb an Eastern perspective on the great wheel of existence.
Science fiction is at its best when it offers something new--a technological advance, an alien species, an altered history--and explores the implications. This book's offering is a cyclic, Eastern view of existence. It was not invented by the author, but he makes it emotionally accessible to Western readers. The lack of any satisfactory conclusion to the book is unimportant, and even somewhat consistent with this worldview.
You should read this book for the journey, not the destination. Absorb a different view of the purpose of life and what it may mean to make progress as a person. You need not change your philosophy as a result. But you may find it easier to understand others who live outside it. And if you enjoy following these characters through the long paths of their history, you may also want to read Poul Anderson's Boat of A Million Years. It contains similar ideas about what different personalities may learn from the deep currents of time.
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 Chense 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, and many more. It's really a virtuoso trick to fit 600 years of alternate history into one book while still having real characters to live the history, something Robinson has accomplished superbly.
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