Years of Rice and Salt

In the spirit of continuing to get through my backlog of books-already-read and keep some commentary on them for future reference, another short review. This time, The Years of Rice and Salt by Kim Stanley Robinson, which according to my notes I read in March of this year. It surprised me to realize this was the first book by the author I had read. (He’s very well known for his Mars trilogy, which I may yet attempt some day.) Given the reviews (e.g. New York Times Book Review: “magisterial alternate history”; [Robinson's] “richest, most subtle and moving novel” — Washington Post Book World), I was rather anticipating that I would like this book. And, indeed, it was grand in scope, an ambitious re-telling of human history from a perspective that is especially fascinating in this age where prejudice seems too easy a path for so many to choose.

However, I also have to admit that I lost interest in the characters about half way through the book. The conceit of having them as a group that reincarnated together, learning about themselves and each other, became buried under the pursuit of rewriting humanity’s timeline. They paled over the course of the various episodes and I became less and less emotionally involved, until, in the end, I finished simply through perseverance. Ideally, I would have liked fewer lives to live through, and more detail about each of them. I realized it seems more like a novel of ideas; more of thought than heart. And, while there’s nothing wrong with that, I personally did not fully respond to it.

3 Responses to “Years of Rice and Salt”

  1. Sol Says:

    For my money, Robinson’s best stuff were his novels _Gold Coast_ and _Pacific Edge_, and the short stories from the same time period (mid-to-late 80s). Great stuff.

    Everything since then has gone progressively downhill, to the point where I’ve gone from buying his novels as soon as they came out in hardcover to not even bothering to read them. (Which of course means I haven’t read the last few to check, but all the reviews I’ve read make them sound like more of the same.)

  2. Meredith Says:

    This was also the first Robinson I’d read, and I want to go back and check out the Mars trilogy eventually.

    I know what you mean about wanting fewer lives and more detail … but what I found right from the start was that half of the reincarnating souls the book follows were completely unsympathetic characters that I wished would just Go Away.

    Some of the episodes in the book really stuck with me, though. For that alone I would recommend the book in general.

  3. Catie Says:

    I’ve read a fair bit of Robinson and YEARS OF RICE AND SALT is easily my least favorite of what I’ve read. The Mars trilogy gets too bogged down in science a few times in the first book, but recovers from it and is a good enough read that it didn’t stop me. I really enjoyed his latest, FORTY SIGNS OF RAIN, and am impatient for more.

    You have Too Many Blogs, darn it.

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