The novel “Spin” by Robert Charles Wilson was published for the first time in 2005. It’s the first book of the Spin trilogy. It won the Hugo Award as the best novel of the year, the Israeli Geffen Award, the German Kurd-Laßwitz-Preis, the French Grand Prix de l’Imaginaire and the Japanese Seiun Award.
Tyler Dupree is a young boy who’s spending the evening with his friends Jason and Diane Lawton when they realize that in the sky the stars have disappeared. After the initial amazement, he seeks news on television and discovers that something has happened all over the world and telecommunications are having big problems.
Soon the news arrives that the whole Earth got enveloped by an artificial membrane of unknown origin. After some time, attempts to probe it show that it slows down time so for every year that passes on Earth about 100 million years pass outside it. The membrane also filters electromagnetic radiation by hiding the stars and simulating day-night cycles.
Robert Charles Wilson develops a series of great ideas between introspective visions concerning human beings and cosmic events in a novel that begins with a defining change for the world when it’s enveloped by a membrane created by unknown entities that are simply called the Hypotheticals. The event has profound consequences on humanity beyond the practical ones due to the loss of contact with all satellites and with the International Space Station in orbit.
“Spin” is told in the first person by Tyler Dupree through what from his point of view are decades since the night when he sees the stars disappear with his best friends. They are kids, not exactly common because Jason and Diane’s father is a millionaire who works in the aerospace industry with excellent connections in the political field, but somehow that event represents the end of their innocence and all humanity’s as well.
In the short term the reaction is of panic by many people: it soon becomes clear that the membrane that envelops the Earth, which starts being called the Spin, is a work so gigantic that goes far beyond the possibilities of any Earth’s nation. However, that’s not a prison because new probes are launched to pass through the Spin that generate a new surprise when it’s discovered that time on Earth has been greatly slowed down.
The Spin’s creators start being called simply the Hypothetical because no one contacts humans to provide explanations or for other reasons so there’s no information about them except that they have technologies unthinkable to humans. There are people who think that the end of the world has arrived and yet no attack comes, not even threats or demands from the Hypothetics, no contact of any kind.
The consequence is that the mid and long term reactions for many people are not based on information or logical reasoning but on their emotions and beliefs. A part of humanity seeks comfort in some religion because the idea that the end of the world is coming remains in them, others continue to seek answers in space.
Tyler is a witness to these changes and the reactions they generate thanks to his direct experiences or to what he discovers thanks to the fact that Jason is involved in his father’s company’s activities and, thanks to their friendship, he’s in the loop even regarding information that are supposed to be secret. In this way, Robert Charles Wilson can tell through Tyler the efforts that are made to discover the nature of the Spin hoping to obtain information on the Hypotheticals as well.
The technical-scientific concepts are really huge but exactly because they’re far beyond human possibilities and are told by Tyler, who as an adult becomes a medical doctor, Robert Charles Wilson doesn’t go into details. “Spin” is not exactly a hard science fiction novel, but has a balance between cosmic events and human beings’ reactions when they’re forced to face old and new fears, with a series of consequences.
Every change is traumatic and many lives get lost. From this point of view “Spin” sometimes gives a harsh vision of humanity with irrational reactions that generate a series of problems. However, the human species as a whole survives and indeed continues its growth so Robert Charles Wilson also offers hopes for the future.
The most important characters around Tyler represent a series of points of view and reactions of human beings. They also have their own individuality and for a novel told in the first person their development is good but in many ways they’re used to make the reader understand the emotions and reactions of entire groups of people.
In “Spin” there are many events but only occasionally Tyler is involved in action moments and in many cases the protagonist reports reflections about them, his own and of other people, and many conversations. The consequence is that sometimes the pace is a bit slow, giving the reader the time to savor all the contents. There are various twists and again Robert Charles Wilson is very good because he creates them in ways that surprise the reader but always with a very precise sense within the story.
The novel has and end in which Robert Charles Wilson provides at least the basic answers to the initial mysteries at the same time making the story’s cosmic scale even broader. However, the human dimension remains central with all its complexity and contradictions. In my opinion the author managed to tell all of that with a truly evocative style, offering emotions and reflections, and for these reasons I consider “Spin” one of the most important novels of this beginning of millennium and a must-have for any science fiction fan.