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Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Years of Rice and Salt by Kim Stanley Robinson

Genre: Alternate History

The departure point for this alternate history novel is the black plague of the dark ages.  Robinson imagines a history in which all the inhabitants of Europe perish in the plague.  His alternate history describes how humanity and civilization advance guided by the influence of the three major Eastern philosophies: Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism.

Robinson uses a unique device to allow us to follow the evolution of humanity over time.  We follow a group of souls who live in different historical eras.  After they die, they meet in the bardo, or afterlife.  They discuss their progress as souls, and then are reincarnated.  In each subsequent time era, each soul's struggles allows the reader to experience how history might have been different without the influence of European civilization.

Robinson's novel is short on plot, and long on discussions of philosophy, politics, morality and mythology.  There are long descriptions and comparisons of each of the three Asian religions.

I must confess, this novel was a struggle for me.  However, if you have an interest in Eastern philosophy and religion, you might enjoy this novel.

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