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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From the Publisher
From the Back Cover
As Bold Bardash, a horseman in the army of Temur the Lame, rides west across the steppe and on to the Magyar Plain, he comes across a town in which everyone lies dead. Long dead. Plague has struck Europe. Kali’s black blanket has fallen over the lands of the West and nothing will ever be the same again.
Into this empty land pour the opportunists: the merchants, slavers and warlords. The Chinese cross the oceans in their huge fleets; the Arabs traverse the deserts by camel and mule and the Mediterranean by dhow. The last Europeans are killed or enslaved – consigned to the seraglios of the sultans. So die the ancestors of Da Vinci and Copernicus; Columbus and Machiavelli; the Spanish Inquisition and the Conquistators; Shakespeare, Newton and the Pilgrim Fathers; Einstein and Hitler. And the world becomes a different place.
In this extraordinarily ambitious, poetic and powerful novel, Kim Stanley Robinson takes us on a journey through seven hundred years of history as it never was, but might have been.
About the Author
Kim Stanley Robinson was born in 1952 and, after travelling and working around the world, has now settled in his beloved California. He is the award-winning author of The Orange County Trilogy, The Mars Trilogy (Red, Green and Blue Mars), Antarctica and a number of highly-praised short story collections.