Customer Review

20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Huge, fun, clever, flawed, 30 Sep 2003
This review is from: The Years of Rice and Salt (Paperback)
Subject-wise, _The Years of Rice and Salt_ pushed all the right buttons for me - opening with a Journey to the West pastiche was always going to score it points, then there was a section set in Samarkand, quotations from Ibn Khaldun, and some deftly-drawn portraits of medieval China. I'm a sucker for a) cleverness, and b) well-crafted settings outside the pseudo-medieval fantasy norm, and this book hits both markers. So I wanted desperately to like it. In some ways, I did.
But there are two fundamental flaws, in my opinion. Firstly, the device of reincarnating the same set of characters fails; none of said characters are distinctive or memorable enough from life to life, and so end up being effectively 'new' in every section/time period. There's little chance for the reader to develop any emotional investment before the section ends and the whole thing starts again, and it becomes difficult to truly care.
Its second problem is, curiously, its lack of scope and vision. While the novel's stage is an entire world over six or so centuries, the device of keeping the characters together in each incarnation means that each section concentrates on one small area, robbing the narrative of the benefits of multiple, varied viewpoints. The scale is narrow rather than epic, and the action tends to get bogged down in details. This would be fine if the details were used to build character or illuminate the larger picture - the themes of this alternate, Europe-less world - but a lot of it reads like navel-gazing.
Many of the truly interesting implications are skipped over in favour of scientists ahead of their time discovering exactly the same things at almost exactly the same time their counterparts did in the non-fictional world, as if Robinson feels that certain universal boxes must be checked along the road to 'development', whatever the structure or imperatives of a society. (Meanwhile, literature, drama and art get short shrift). Often even the same words are used - I know little about the history of scientific thought, but would a world whose development was shaped by Arabs and Chinese still have used so many Greek and Latinate constructions to label their deeds? (okay, so he can get away with Greek, Islamic scholars were big on Greek. but still).
While there are glimpses of greater things - Buddhist attitudes and beliefs are used very well, and the different trajectory of American history is intriguing, but frustratingly underexplored - Robinson seems to be more interested in following a pretty conventional path. Perhaps dictated by his reincarnation device, he surrenders to the temptation to work towards a conclusion, as if human history could have ultimate purposes or goals. (I imagine one could argue that this reflects the world-view of those he writes about, but intentional or not it doesn't work!). Ultimately, this is too big a topic for one novel, and in trying to cover everything the author spreads himself too thinly, and ends up short-changing a fascinating world.
Despite these caveats, this remains a hugely enjoyable and memorable read, a rich tapestry of cultures and ideas rarely explored in genre fiction. Worth a look.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No

[Add comment]
Post a comment
To insert a product link use the format: [[ASIN:ASIN product-title]] (What's this?)
Amazon will display this name with all your submissions, including reviews and discussion posts. (Learn more)
Name:
Badge:
This badge will be assigned to you and will appear along with your name.
There was an error. Please try again.
Please see the full guidelines ">here.

Official Comment

As a representative of this product you can post one Official Comment on this review. It will appear immediately below the review wherever it is displayed.   Learn more
The following name and badge will be shown with this comment:
 (edit name)
After clicking on the Post button you will be asked to create your public name, which will be shown with all your contributions.

Is this your product?

If you are the author, artist, manufacturer or an official representative of this product, you can post an Official Comment on this review. It will appear immediately below the review wherever it is displayed.  Learn more
Otherwise, you can still post a regular comment on this review.

Is this your product?

If you are the author, artist, manufacturer or an official representative of this product, you can post an Official Comment on this review. It will appear immediately below the review wherever it is displayed.   Learn more
 
System timed out

We were unable to verify whether you represent the product. Please try again later, or retry now. Otherwise you can post a regular comment.

Since you previously posted an Official Comment, this comment will appear in the comment section below. You also have the option to edit your Official Comment.   Learn more
The maximum number of Official Comments have been posted. This comment will appear in the comment section below.   Learn more
Prompts for sign-in
 

Comments

Tracked by 1 customer

Sort: Oldest first | Newest first
Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 30 Jan 2012 21:41:44 GMT
chris3 says:
i agreee with every word you wrote.

Posted on 5 Mar 2013 17:43:47 GMT
Very helpful review, making similar points to those with lower star ratings but in a far more intelligent and even-handed manner. Thanks!
‹ Previous 1 Next ›

Review Details

Item

3.3 out of 5 stars (27 customer reviews)
5 star:
 (4)
4 star:
 (8)
3 star:
 (8)
2 star:
 (5)
1 star:
 (2)
 
 
 
Used & New from: 0.01
Add to wishlist
Reviewer

N. Clarke
(REAL NAME)   

Location: Lancs, UK

Top Reviewer Ranking: 737,741