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
‘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
‘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
From the Publisher
From the Back Cover
A vanguard of the Mongol horde rides west across the steppes into an eerily silent world. People lie dead in villages and in the streets of towns. The Black Death has struck Europe. There are virtually no survivors.
Into this empty land pour merchants, warlords and refugees, and from that day forward history is shaped by the East instead of the West. Japanese ships cross the Pacific Ocean and Chinese ships cross the Atlantic to colonise the New World, while a scientific revolution is begun in Samarkand. And the destinies of a cast of unforgettable characters weave a bright new pattern through seven hundred years of history as it never was, but might have been.
"This marvellous book may be the most hopeful thing you read for a long time"
"A dazzling work of speculation with all the qualities of a great historical novel – it is by turns thrilling, tragic, funny and thoughtful"
"A huge, complex and highly enjoyable book"
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.