Customer Reviews for

The Years of Rice and Salt

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Most Helpful Favorable Review

4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

Well done! A book that challenges you if you let it.

This is a compelling 'What If...' novel. Kim Stanley Robinson covers over 700 years of an alternate history dominated by the Chinese and Islam. The novel is made up of a number of short stories at various points in time dating from the Great European Plague to modern ti...
This is a compelling 'What If...' novel. Kim Stanley Robinson covers over 700 years of an alternate history dominated by the Chinese and Islam. The novel is made up of a number of short stories at various points in time dating from the Great European Plague to modern times and beyond. Using a simple naming convention, the lives of the characters are somewhat easily connected by the reader from story to story, as they are reincarnated, and we follow their journey through the 'bardo' into future lives on Earth. Kim Stanley Robinson draws the reader into the epoch by using the writing style of the era or culture. The interludes in the bardo are humorous while also thought provoking as the characters attempt to understand their lives just ended and set goals for the ones to come. Indeed Buddhist philosophy and reincarnation feature prominently in these stories, and are a counterbalance in some sense to the extremism of Islamic beliefs, although Robinson goes to lengths to show that pure Islamic tenants are not in tune with the corruptions wrought upon it by the religious zealots. Scientific advances and discoveries progress at a different pace in this alternate history, and references are made to many familiar technologies, but what is not mentioned is also as telling. As a hard science writer I suspect Robinson especially enjoyed brainstorming in this area. Certainly Islamic cultures that dominate Robinson's world are less curious than Western civilizations have been, and this has a profound impact on the path of history, and provides the Chinese with an edge enhanced by their great numbers. Robinson also introduces us to other cultures and people that emerge as primary players in the new world order he creates. We see how Indian and native American cultures evolve and influence the political and scientific balance. Certainly Robinson has his own thoughts about these things, and a liking for utopian societies and Buddhism, yet he is not heavy handed with his views, and allows for the reader to formulate his or her own. All in all, this is an ambitious undertaking and one that is very well done and researched. Those familiar with Robinson's past novels will find much that is familiar, while he tells a story that goes in directions he has not ventured before. Those new to Robinson will hopefully also look to discover more from one of the best writers in Science Fiction today.

posted by Anonymous on November 19, 2003

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Most Helpful Critical Review

4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

In the 14th Century CE, the Black Death wiped out roughly 1/3 of

In the 14th Century CE, the Black Death wiped out roughly 1/3 of the world population -- and up to 60% of all people in Western Europe -- and changed world history. But what might have happened to the world had the Plague been more severe? In The Years of Rice and Salt,...
In the 14th Century CE, the Black Death wiped out roughly 1/3 of the world population -- and up to 60% of all people in Western Europe -- and changed world history. But what might have happened to the world had the Plague been more severe? In The Years of Rice and Salt, Kim Stanley Robinson posits a world in which some 90% or more of the population is dead, Europe is utterly depopulated, and the survivors are concentrated in Eastern Asia.

It's an ingenious and startling premise. Seriously, think about it. Christianity and Judaism, gone as practiced religions, and scarcely even mentioned except as footnotes in a history book. No Shakespeare, no Queen Elizabeth, no daVinci, no Van Gogh, no Mozart, Columbus, Magellan, Rembrandt, Dumas, Jefferson, Franklin, Galileo, Copernicus, Kepler.... the list of never-to-exist Eurocentric artists, authors, explorers, and other world shapers is virtually endless.

Instead, Robinson introduces us to a world gradually explored and settled by Asian peoples. In keeping with a common theme of Eastern religions, he uses the plot device of reincarnation to tell his story. From a primitive village on the steppes of Mongolia to a 100-story highrise in Burma, centuries later, each character returns in the next cycle, to learn more, to grow more, to be reunited with each other time and again, and to gradually learn to recognize each other, at least a little.

It's a fabulous premise. I wish I had liked its execution more.

Robinson's style is bone-dry and stultifying. Even his romance and battle scenes are presented at an objective distance, lacking all blood and passion. I plodded through this book, one sere paragraph after another, and only finished it out of sheer stubbornness, as in: "By God, I've spent three weeks reading this thing, I'll be damned if I give up on it now.") In the end, what kept me going was drawing parallels between the book's characters and our world's key historical figures. ("Okay, this woman would be Marie Curie in our world," and so forth.)

This isn't to say it's badly written. It isn't. It's beautifully written; it had to be to make me stick with it for nearly 700 pages. Deserts are beautiful, too. I'm still awfully glad when I leave the desert and am free to travel somewhere else.

posted by avanta7 on April 15, 2012

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 8, 2008

    A Tasty Book

    Mr. Robinson has a fairly clear understanding of the religions he is dealing with and the history he is altering by the 'what if' he has used. The european whites/Christians aren't 'evil' just outnumbered having been killed off by the plague which in the book had a 90% kill rate. Origionally only about 30%+/- of the european population died of the plague. Reincarnation within certain familial groups &/or tribes is part of some eastern religous beliefs. I really enjoyed this book for several reasons,one- I like Mr. Robinsons writings two- I lived some of the areas that are included in this book and areas governed by four of the religions in this book. I also have read extensivly books concerning these religions such as the Bible '& Apocrypha', the Koran, Tibetian Book of the Dead, ect. In short, A good book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 26, 2002

    history, philosophy, novel

    I'm not a reader of sci fi, and knew nothing of Robinson when I came upon a NYT review of this book. My only regret is that it's too lengthy to teach to high school students. The scope of its vision of world history, the depth of its philosophical concerns, and the writer's skill in handling literary elements make this a most absorbing and thought-provoking work. Beautifully written (clever central conceit, lively episodes, serious themes, effective language, if--understandably--weak characterization), and highly accurate insofar as I (an amateur world history buff) can judge, Robinson's novel engages the reader on many levels. It ends with a meditation on the nature of history itself. Rewarding on the narrative plane alone, this book entirely repays one's investment of time and thought. I certainly hope that the publisher will put out a trade paperback edition: Robinson should be a mainstream name.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 21, 2013

    Lizzy

    Someone told me to come?

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 22, 2013

    To kate

    Chill the fu.ck out

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 21, 2013

    To lizzy

    R u looking for kate? Shes my cuz go to next result she is there

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 17, 2003

    Brilliant; beyond most readers

    The Years of Rice and Salt is easily one of the best books I've ever read. The scope of the author's understanding of history and human nature is astounding. The characters are very realistic and not cookie-cutter. Unlike some other historical fiction writers, Robinson understands that history is open to interpretation. This book is marvelous.

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