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The Years of Rice and Salt by Kim Stanley…

The Years of Rice and Salt (2002)

by Kim Stanley Robinson

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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English (64)  French (4)  Hungarian (2)  Italian (1)  Spanish (1)  All languages (72)
Showing 1-5 of 64 (next | show all)
This book started well with some interesting characters but ended up as a treatise on the philosophy of history. It felt like something I hadn't signed up to in the beginning. ( )
  shushokan | Jul 3, 2018 |
People being reincarnated between different "realms" in an alternate history novel. Perhaps I could have worked more on this book, but I am not such a fan of these things, so I put it down quite quickly. ( )
  ohernaes | Feb 8, 2018 |

A sprawling historical narrative spanning centuries. The major theme dealt with in this book is the speculative philosophy of history.
Does history as whole have a structure? A direction? Is there a teleological sense to history? Is history a progress? The author’s opinion here seems to be in the affirmative and so he leaves us with a lot of optimism at the end of the story.

This book is set during the period of Christian domination. In this alternate history, a plague kills almost all the Christians. So the Muslims, Chinese, Indians and Native Americans become the major players in this part of history. This is set in Buddhist metaphysical and mythological setting. So our main characters for the whole 700 years are the same people who keep passing through the cycles of birth and death. This aspect of the story highlights the role of individuals in Human history.

Technological progress here happens at the same pace as our world. The same inventions and discoveries happen. This changelessness in the history of ideas once again, I believe, signifies the author’s view of history as a progress.

Epic in scale and ultimately leaves us with a message of optimism and hope. Shows the interconnectedness of the world and human endaevor.

( )
  kasyapa | Oct 9, 2017 |
This novel covers about 650 years over the course of approximately as many pages, ending in 2002 when it was first published. It is set in an alternate history where the Black Death of the 14th century eliminated the prohibitive majority of the European population. It is a necklace of ten novellas carrying out a thought experiment regarding world history in the absence of Western modernity. Author Kim Stanley Robinson is known for investing his fiction with both the sort of grand scope present in this book and also a presentation of political concerns embracing socialism and environmentalism. These are also on hand in The Years of Rice and Salt. After working through analogies for the ages of discovery, rational enlightenment, and industrialization, the great wars of our 20th century are reflected in the Long War, sixty-six years of global military conflict between a Chinese empire and a worldwide Muslim alliance. The last two sections of the book take place in a post-war world with challenges very similar to our own.

Although Robinson's style is often very cerebral, whether philosophical, scientific, or mystical, this book is still one that insists that the reader attend to bodies, and consider the libidinal cathexes that seem to drive both civilization and its discontents. His characters are often informed by deliberately-inflicted injuries: the castration of a young slave, a man's hand cut off in punishment, a woman's bound feet.

The title The Years of Rice and Salt appears in the book as a Chinese phrase denoting the stage of a woman's life between motherhood and widowhood. Metaphorically, Robinson seems to be suggesting that the entire modern period (whether our own or that of his conjectural parallel history) is such an interval for our species, and his characters often contemplate the arc of history and wonder about possibilities for human society. Typically, these thoughts arise in the context of the "Four Great Inequalities" theorized by his character Ibrahim ibn Hasam al-Lanzhou, one of which is the domination of women by men (406-411). Ibrahim appears in the section called "Widow Kang," which features this world's version of modern spiritualism, with a subversion of received gender codes just as in our own 19th century.

The "Widow Kang" episode is one that most highlights the fact that the ten stories are explicitly linked through the function of metempsychosis: Robinson re-purposes the Buddhist term jati (Skt, Pali "birth," but also "clan" or "sub-caste" in non-Buddhist Indian usage) to represent a persistent association of reincarnated individuals, who are also periodically reunited in the disincarnated bardo state. Although the novel presents reincarnation and the bardo as narrative facts, some of the book's last passages reflect on them more philosophically, observing: "Reincarnation is a story we tell; then in the end it's the story itself that is the reincarnation" (654). The epigram and first paragraph of the book imply that the two principal characters in the jati represented through all the stories are identical with the monkey Sun Wukong and monk Xuanzang of Chinese lore.

On the whole, this book is ambitious, profound, and often beautiful.
2 vote paradoxosalpha | Jul 10, 2017 |
I gave up after 100 pages... little description and the story such as it was was very skimpy on detail. I got the impression this book was a series of reincarnations but having followed the Main character, Bold, through one life I was not going to torture myself with another life. ( )
  Lynxear | May 12, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 64 (next | show all)
If there is a weakness in Robinson's work, it is perhaps this; his characters are so intelligent that they never shut up and often have fascinating conversations for page after page about the engineering of fortifications or the reconciliation of Sufism and Confucianism or, most extendedly, the ways that history works. It is always good talk, in which everyone speaks in character. For Robinson, science fiction is not only a literature of ideas, but a literature whose characters have lots of them.
added by SnootyBaronet | editThe Independent, Roz Kaveney

» Add other authors (5 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Kim Stanley Robinsonprimary authorall editionscalculated
Ayers, AlanCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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TRIPITAKA: Monkey, how far is it to the Western Heaven, the abode of Buddha?

WU-KONG: You can walk from the time of your youth till the time you grow old, and after that, till you become young again; and even after going through such a cycle a thousand times, you may still find it difficult to reach the place where you want to go. But when you perceive, by the resoluteness of your will, the Buddha-nature in all things, and when every one of your thoughts goes back to that fountain in your memory, that will be the time you arrive at Spirit Mountain. -- The Journey to the West
First words
Monkey never dies.
The word of God came down to man as rain to soil, and the result was mud, not clear water.
Reincarnation is a story we tell; then in the end it's the story itself that is the reincarnation.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0553580078, Mass Market Paperback)

Award-winning author Kim Stanley Robinson delivers a thoughtful and powerful examination of cultures and the people who shape them. How might human history be different if 14th-century Europe was utterly wiped out by plague, and Islamic and Buddhist societies emerged as the world's dominant religious and political forces? The Years of Rice and Salt considers this question through the stories of individuals who experience and influence various crucial periods in the seven centuries that follow. The credible alternate history that Robinson constructs becomes the framework for a tapestry of ideas about philosophy, science, theology, and politics.

At the heart of the story are fundamental questions: what is the purpose of life and death? Are we eternal? Do our choices matter? The particular achievement of this book is that it weaves these threads into a story that is both intellectually and emotionally engaging. This is a highly recommended, challenging, and ambitious work. --Roz Genessee

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:23:52 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

Alternate history based on a world where the Black Death killed most of the population of Christian Europe, China, India, and the Middle East are dominant regions, and Islam and Buddhism the dominant religions.

» see all 3 descriptions

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