First, a side note: I am always a little bit surprised at the consistency of Robert Charles Wilson’s authorial voice.
Most authors find consistent voices at the cost of being idiosyncratic, or put more kindly, “instantly recognizable”.
On the other hand, Robert Charles Wilson voice is so neutral it disappears…and yet, of his novels that I’ve read, I couldn’t tell you with certainty which were written in the first person and which were written in the third—in memory they feel far more similar than they could ever be different.
I suppose much of it comes from the fact that his narratives are generally about witnesses—whether a first-person recollection (as The Affinities is), or third-person centered around a main character or characters who are involved but not prime movers in great events (as in Burning Paradise), they are more about how the characters are changed by the world and less about how they change the world.
And yet, their actions have consequences.
I read a review of The Affinities just before it came out that left me with lowered expectations; and yet, it was wrong. Although I understand that the book probably isn’t for everyone, I find it an interesting meditation on what it means to belong to a group, and what it means to identify completely with such a group, and what it means to a society when people no longer identify as part of the larger polity.
I suspect that some will find the subject uninteresting, but I believe the question of our investment in the greater society in which we exist is an important one. It’s not too much to say that the U.S. has come to its current political impasse precisely because people no longer think of themselves as part of anything other than the tribe they happen to have chosen.
Not that this is a “message” story—really it’s just a story of families, and what you do when your family rejects you, or you reject it—but if science fiction is defined by using the idea of something that isn’t in order to sharpen and refine our view of what is, I think this novel has to be called SF even when there’s nothing very outre happening.