- Mass Market Paperback: 784 pages
- Publisher: Spectra; Reprint edition (June 3, 2003)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0553580078
- ISBN-13: 978-0553580075
- Product Dimensions: 4.2 x 1.2 x 6.9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 294 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #58,329 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Years of Rice and Salt: A Novel Mass Market Paperback – June 3, 2003
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“A thoughtful, magisterial alternate history from one of science fiction’s most important writers.”—The New York Times Book Review
“Exceptional and engrossing.”—New York Post
“Ambitious . . . ingenious.”—Newsday
PRAISE FOR KIM STANLEY ROBINSON’S Red Mars WINNER OF THE NEBULA AWARD FOR BEST NOVEL
“A tremendous achievement.”—The Washington Post Book World
“An absorbing novel . . . a scientifically informed imagination of rare ambition at work.”—The New York Times Book Review
“Promises to become a classic . . .This is epic science fiction in the best sense of the term–thoughtful, provoking, and haunting.”—St. Louis Post-Dispatch
From the Inside Flap
With the incomparable vision and breathtaking detail that brought his now-classic Mars trilogy to vivid life, bestselling author KIM STANLEY ROBINSON boldly imagines an alternate history of the last seven hundred years. In his grandest work yet, the acclaimed storyteller constructs a world vastly different from the one we know....
The Years of Rice and Salt
It is the fourteenth century and one of the most apocalyptic events in human history is set to occur-the coming of the Black Death. History teaches us that a third of Europe's population was destroyed. But what if? What if the plague killed 99 percent of the population instead? How would the world have changed? This is a look at the history that could have been-a history that stretches across centuries, a history that sees dynasties and nations rise and crumble, a history that spans horrible famine and magnificent innovation. These are the years of rice and salt.
This is a universe where the first ship to reach the New World travels across the Pacific Ocean from China and colonization spreads from west to east. This is a universe where the Industrial Revolution is triggered by the world's greatest scientific minds-in India. This is a universe where Buddhism and Islam are the most influential and practiced religions and Christianity is merely a historical footnote.
Through the eyes of soldiers and kings, explorers and philosophers, slaves and scholars, Robinson renders an immensely rich tapestry. Rewriting history and probing the most profound questions as only he can, Robinson shines his extraordinary light on the place of religion, culture, power, and even love on such an Earth. From the steppes of Asia to the shoresof the Western Hemisphere, from the age of Akbar to the present and beyond, here is the stunning story of the creation of a new world.
"From the Hardcover edition.
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This review is of a re-read. I am certain fans of KSR's Mars Trilogy ran into a brick wall with this alternate history where the plague decimated Christendom, leaving Buddhism and Islam the world's primary religions. It is a reflective, intensely personal work told through a group of individuals, or jati in Hindu, who progress together through reincarnations from the time of Mohammad until roughly present day.
Each time this group is reborn, they can and often are different genders and different places in the world, but always with a name that starts with the same initial. We are witness to great discoveries (that roughly map to our own history) or quiet reflection on spirituality, religion, god, man, and suffering. There is much religious commentary and one thing I appreciate is a strong thread that discusses the feminist underpinnings of Mohammad's original concept for Islam--and how men in power have altered and abused that thought for their own ends.
The book is lyrical, funny, frightening, and ultimately enlightening. KSR doesn't pull any punches, nor should he, and we get well-formed, well-informed characters and a story that is driven by their desire to make things better for themselves and the world.
I also like how KSR, after the demise of characters in a given situation, has them return to the bardo, a place where their acts in their most recent lives are judged before they are sent back--with no memory of who they were (mostly) -- to live again. In the bardo, it's always about next time we'll do better. But there is always a skeptic and a dreamer. My favorite line was, "We may be in a hallucination here, but that gives you no right to be delusional!"
The second read, as with most books, exposes a richness and it was so easy to settle in, like a well-worn leather chair. If you liked the Mars series for its hard science, you won't find it here. But you will find a very personal reflection on what it means to be human in this world. I think that's why I admire KSR so much, I can go from Galileo's Dream to 2312 to Shaman and enjoy each for what they are. He is a fine, fine writer.
What I like most about The Years... is that it's a *hard* alternate history (as in *hard* sci-fi). It seems authentic and believable because it is firmly grounded in the actual history and geography. Robinson possesses truly encyclopaedic knowledge and isn't afraid to share it with readers; by the end of the book you'll probably learn a lot of new things about China, India, Buddhism, Islam and many other fascinating subjects. At the same time, the novel is pleasantly weird. Its world hits the same major milestones as our world: there is Renaissance of sorts, there is an Age of Exploration and discovery of Americas, there are world wars and nuclear weapons and so on, but at the same time everything is different because all of this is done by the Eastern and Arabic nations. Familiar continents and lands get new names, La Convivencia is actually a thing, feminist movement in Europe has to grapple with Islamic, not Christian, worldview, and so on.
The ten books that comprise the novel are pretty self-containted and vary considerably in tone, pacing and style, ranging from intense, action-filled sequences to lengthy religious and philosophical musings. Towards the last third the novel even partially morphs into a manifesto of sorts, a vision of a better future for this alternative timeline and, by proxy, for the "real" one, since they –surprise, surprise –turn out to be not so different after all. This part can occassionally get a bit sloggy (and seem a little at times) but I'd urge you to persist in spite of it, because the payoff is worth it.
Oddly enough, this is my first Kim Stanley Robinson novel, and I've seen a lot of folks say that it does not hold a candle to his Mars trilogy. If true, these books probably must be rated 10 out of 5 or something, because I haven't read a novel this original and this expansive in a while. Highly recommended.
In the Mars trilogy, I started out not really caring about the characters, they were just there to express the aspects of Mars, but by the end they had grown and developed and aged to the extend that I was surprised by the emotional connection I felt toward them. This could have happened in this book, because the characters are 'reincarnated' between sections. Yet the opposite occurred - I cared about them in the first few sections and was saddened by their demise as they went along ... but by the last few sections the characters were lost among more and more sections of dull philosophical musings and I found myself caring less and less about them.
I was also distracted by some of the conventions the author chose to adopt to give an alternative 'feel' to the universe. I couldn't follow the dates at all so I couldn't mentally compare the timeline to actual history. Continents, elements, weights and measures were given different names which confused me more than once. Some of this (like the timeline) was meant to be explained by figures in the book but I had the Kindle edition and it was very difficult/impossible to read them.