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The Years of Rice and Salt Paperback – 3 Feb 2003

30 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 784 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins; New Ed edition (3 Feb. 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0006511481
  • ISBN-13: 978-0006511489
  • Product Dimensions: 11.1 x 4.2 x 17.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 30,607 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Kim Stanley Robinson has won the Hugo, Nebula and Locus awards. He is the author of over twenty previous books, including the bestselling Mars trilogy and the highly acclaimed FORTY SIGNS OF RAIN. He lives in Davis, California.

Product Description

Amazon Review

Kim Stanley Robinson's ambitious exploration of alternative history in The Years of Rice and Salt poses the daunting question "How would our world have developed without Europe?" (Or, rather, without European culture?) When the scouts of the Mongol leader Temur the Lame (Tamburlaine) enter Hungary in 1405, they find only emptiness and death. Plague has swept Europe off the gameboard of history.

The centuries that follow are initially dominated by expanding Islamic nations and the monolithic Chinese empire. It's a grand chronicle of rising and falling cultures, with individuals forever struggling to make a difference to the slow-motion landslide of events. Extra continuity is given by a touch of fantasy as the Buddhist wheel of reincarnation brings back the same characters (coded by initials) again and again with varied roles, relations and sexes. Their stories are touching and very human.

Episodes of our own history are artfully echoed. America is discovered by Chinese ships from the west, with fateful effects for the native tribes and the "Inka" theocracy further south. The scientific ideas of da Vinci's Renaissance are reflected by the Alchemist of Samarkand, reluctantly devising fresh weapons of war. New forms of government arise. Islamic splinter groups move into empty Europe and in that softer climate develop dangerous notions like feminism. A First World War eventually comes, later than we'd expect but horribly prolonged.

Then Muslim scientists begin to see the implications of the mass-energy theories of a savant from the Indian subcontinent:

Invisible worlds, full of energy and power: sub-atomic harems, each pulsing on the edge of a great explosion...There was no escaping the latent violence at the heart of things. Even the stones were mortal.

This immense tapestry of history that never happened is constantly illuminated by the small comedies, tragedies, romances and triumphs of memorably real individuals. The Years of Rice and Salt is a brave new landmark in alternate history, deservedly shortlisted for the British SF Association and Arthur C Clarke awards. --David Langford

Review

‘A huge, complex and highly enjoyable book’ New Scientist

‘A dazzling work of speculation with all the qualities of a great historical novel – it is by turns thrilling, tragic, funny and thoughtful’ Scotsman

‘Stunning’ Guardian

‘A 600-year tapestry of striving, joy, unhappiness and ambiguity … this marvellous book may be the most hopeful thing you read for a long time.’ Evening Standard

‘Robinson writes beautifully’ The Times

‘A novel of ideas of the best sort’ Publishers Weekly

‘The Years of Rice and Salt does what good speculative fiction ought to do: it arouses discussion and debate’ TLS


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Customer Reviews

3.4 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Mr. Joel C. A. Cooney on 9 April 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Where to start with this epic...

"The Years Of Rice and Salt" is another example of the "alternative History" sub-genre of SF/Fantasy - the central idea of playing out a scenario in the real world's past, where a change in one or more specific events causes a divergence with the true path of history. Notable examples in the field would be: The Man in the High Castle (Penguin Modern Classics) by Philip K. Dick (The Axis powers win WW2), Pavane (S.F. Masterworks) by Keith Roberts (The Spanish Armada succeed in deposing Queen Elizabeth) and Bring the Jubilee (Millennium SF Masterworks S.) by Ward Moore (The Confederacy win the American Civil War); prolific pulp author Harry Turtledove has created a cottage industry out of these "what if" scenarios. As such it's quite a crowded field for a writer to make his mark. Happily Kim Stanley Robinson has the literary weight, being well respected as an author of "Hard" SF (the "Mars" trilogy), to be taken seriously in any field he chooses to tackle. So how does he do? Pretty well, in the main.

The central conceit in this case is as follows: what if, in the 13th and 14th centuries, instead of circa-30% of Europe's population dying during the Black Death, 99% of them were killed? In other words, what would the last 700 years of Earth history have been like, if you almost entirely remove the influence of White, European (and most crucially) Christian culture?
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Frederic J. Pont on 6 Jun. 2009
Format: Hardcover
When the Mongol hordes reach Europe to fulfill their destiny of plunder and destruction, they find it empty... The whole population has been wiped out by the Pleague.
This is the premise on which the book is built. We then follow eight centuries of alternate world history, in a world without Westerners. Chinese discover the New World, Muslims settle in Europe, and everything is completely different.

The book is written from a non-Western perspective. For instance, what makes us care about the characters that we meet over the centuries is that they are successive reincarnation of the same limited number of people. Since the author is still an American, the result is a narrator that is neither fully oriental nor fully familiar, which is exactly the kind of alien feel that makes this alternate history credible.

This is one of the best book I've read, and it towers high over all attempts at alternate history. In that domain we are usually treated either to fantasy worlds without credible links with real history, or with "what if" scenarios that make very little change compared to actual events, and often maintain a very close contact with real history. However, in the "Years of rice and salt", we diverge from history in the late middle ages and never look back.

The book gets weaker as we near the twentieth century, the parallels with history as it really happened get closer. As the scale of the events grows larger and more complex, we are reaching the limits of what a single author-reader pair can achieve, and we progressively "get lost" in the third part of the book.

Still, definitely 5-stars for me, the "6-stars" first half making up for the 4-star last part.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Danny De Raymaeker on 27 July 2004
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Robinson's novel is an exercise in hypothetical history writing : how would the world's history have looked like if the entire population of medieval Europe had been wiped out by the plague and Temur's hordes had only encountered an empty wasteland ?
Robinson sketches the answer in ten chapters that deal with a period of approximately six centuries, describing the development of predominantly Musulman and Chinese empires through the experiences of a number of central characters whose fates are intertwined during succesive reincarnations.
In Robinson's hypothetical world history two major powerhouses come into being : the Chinese through sheer numbers are set to dominate a large part of the world, whereas Islam forges a far more fractitioned counterweight. In the end both world powers exhaust themselves in a long world war, setting the scene for a flourishing of other hitherto minor powers, India and - more surprisingly - the Hodenausaunee league of North American prairie indians.
In this thematically rich novel, Robinson meditates about a large number of themes : the influence of religion on state and culture, the optimal organisation of society and government, the development of science and its relation with religion and its impact on the balance of power between nations, the degrees of freedom in historical developments, the importance of women taking their place in society as the equals of men, the importance of the development of supranational scientific and governing bodies.
Quite a mouthful. Does Robinson pull it off ? Ambitious novels like these are bound to fail : their scope is simply to wide and in this case even 772 pages can hardly suffice to provide all the required answers. The quality of the different chapters is pretty uneven.
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