1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Where were the Aztecs?,
By A Customer
This review is from: The Years of Rice and Salt (Hardcover)
I enjoyed this book, but not as much as the 'Mars Trilogy'. 'The Years of Rice and Salt' begins splendidly with a dazzling trip around the medieval world beyond Europe: we visit China, India and the Middle East and see the wealth of beauty of civilisations that we in the West never learn about in our Eurocentric history lessons. Robinson successfully raises the question of what the world would have been like if the Europeans had suddenly died.
The first few chapters are stunning and imaginative, but as the story progresses the inspiration seems to run dry. There's a very tedious chapter in which two alchemists in Samarkand discover a vast number of scientific principles and inventions. They are like Galileo, Newton, Edison, Einstein and da Vinci all at once and it's completely unconvincing, since no explanation is given as to why these particular guys have the ability to invent everything. And the final chapter is a rather dull let-down with lots of pontificating about history but not a scrap of a plot.
Having said that, several chapters are wonderful, especially the mesmerising description of the Chinese discovery of America from the West. However, the sections set in America also contain the most glaring flaw: Robinson forgets to mention the Aztecs, a civilisation whose central city, Tenochtitlan, is believed to have been the biggest city in the world at the time the novel begins. While we can assume they were wiped out by smallpox or Chinese invasion this is never stated or discussed, and the omission nagged at my brain all through the reading process.
In summary, if you enjoy Robinson's leisurely style and tendency to pontificate, as evidenced in the 'Mars' trilogy, you'll like this book, but be aware that it needed a good deal more editing than it has been given.