Books of 2017, #1: Last Year, by Robert Charles Wilson

I didn’t expect to make a first post in this series this quickly—but I started this book around 6pm yesterday, and ended up finishing just after 11pm. A little late for me, but I wasn’t inclined to stop.

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised—I’ve found most of Robert Charles Wilson’s books compulsively readable, and one of their virtues is that they don’t carry a lot of fat; although reading ebooks can obscure relative length, he simply doesn’t do doorstops.

It’s one of the several ways they’re not your average Science-Fiction novels.

If you read the synopses you could be forgiven for thinking they were plot-driven; certainly they all start with some relatively high-concept plot: Spin – the Earth has been enclosed in a bubble that retards time. The Chronoliths – mysterious monuments start appearing from the future. The Affinities – humans can be classified into 22 distinct groups.

But they’re not plot-driven, or at least they bury the mechanics of their plot deep within the organic choices of their characters. Specific individuals, who get caught up in events; often through relationships, sometimes because small actions of theirs pull them in, or perhaps because their action is an unintended precipitating incident.

In the case of Last Year, Jessie Cullum is in the right place at the right time—twice in fact—and his life is upended. Again.

Another distinctive feature of his stories is that their ends are…hard to describe. It’s tempting to call them messy or ambgiuous, but that isn’t quite right—it brings to mind authors who can’t stick the landing, where the book ends because they just ran out of stuff, or got tired of typing.

It’s a little more like they’re open-ended, except that’s not really it either—although Spin did end up with a sequel (though it was more a book in the same universe), that’s the exception rather than the rule.

I guess the best way to describe it is that the characters rarely feel like they quit existing the moment you turn the last page—that they have more life ahead of them, and more stuff is going to happen to them; it may be epic or mundane, it doesn’t matter. All that matters is that while this particular story may be done, while this particular segment of their life may be finished, it’s neither an end nor a setup for more.

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Michael Alan Dorman

Yogi, brigand, programmer, thief, musician, Republican, cook. I leave it to you figure out which ones are accurate.