28 September 2009

Writing on Reading: Spin

Here I continue our occasional literary analysis in hopes of learning something about spec fic writing...
Spin, by Robert Charles Wilson (2005), won the 2006 Hugo Award for Best Novel with good reason. Spin utilizes literary devices very well. Among other things, it has two narrative timelines, 4 x 10^9 A.D. and the near future. The near future narrative is told as a series of flashbacks because "Graphomania was one of the several sides effects of the drug." (Spin p48) The narrator undergoes a mysterious medical procedure in which he "... found myself wanting to write again, the urge coming on like an echo of the fever." (Spin p51).

Interestingly, much of Spin is familiar in that there are several similarities with the plot of Spin and the plot of F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. Spin is told in first person from the viewpoint of Tyler Dupree. Tyler grows up poor with his widowed mother in the Little House “in awe of” (Spin p6) the inhabitants of "the Big House, we called it" (Spin p5) across the lawn, the wealthy Lawtons: twins Jason and Diane, mother Carol and father E.D. While Tyler is the point of view character in the novel, Jason is the real 'mover and shaker' of the story. Obviously, this is similar to Fitzgerald's setup with Nick Carraway, the narrator, living across the yard from rich 'mover and shaker' Jay Gatsby.

Another similarity between Spin and Gatsby is the hedonism in both novels. In the case of Spin, humanity believes itself about to be extinguished, and reacts by doing drugs, alcohol, violence and creating a whole Christian Hedonist spectrum in which "...the robes began to drop and the dancing started. And a few acts more intimate then dancing." (Spin p72) "...just a few hundred pilgrims smiling into the teeth of extinction and loving their neighbors like they'd like to be loved." (Spin p72). In Gatsby, Fitzgerald writes of the moral emptiness and hedonism of the 1920s illicit speakeasy culture.

Moreover, in Gatsby, Nick thinks Gatsby's power to transform his dreams into reality makes him great, and in Spin, Tyler thinks Jason's power to transform his dreams into reality makes him great. Jason terraforms Mars using a variety of “...ebony eggs. ...scatter these into the Martian atmosphere.” (Spin p118) “...inoculating the planet with life” (Spin p119) and creates a human colony: “...we send people. ...if all this worked...they would have to teach themselves subsistence skills in an environment only approximately fit for human habitation.” (Spin pp145-146).

Unfortunately, the greatness of Gatsby and Jason do not last. In Spin, on Mars, “the Fourth Age was ...a longevity treatment and a social institution. But it's evolved since then.... There isn't just a four, there's a 4.1, 4.2...” (Spin p401) Jason goes too far and volunteers to be “a biological receiver” of “...the replicators' hidden second subchannel for communicating among themselves and with their point of origin.” (Spin p408) and his final upgrade leads to his death. In the end of Gatsby, Gatsby's dream is corrupted by money and dishonesty and he is murdered. Furthermore, the novels endings have some similarity: Nick moves back to the Midwest, escaping the East's moral bankruptcy, and Tyler escapes the Earth, going to a new planet where “History doesn't start until we land.” (Spin p452)

Obviously, there is also much of the Spin plot that is not similiar to Fitzgerald's work. For example, in Spin the characters initially believe “the stars had actually 'gone out'--that is they had been extinguished like candles in a wind.” (Spin p12) But they discover “the stars had been 'eclipsed'... by something big. Something fast.” (Spin p16) and they have “an imposter sun, a clever fabrication.” (Spin p17) But I'll leave it to the reader to decipher just what exactly is going on. :)

What parallels can you draw between one or more spec fic novels and other novels?
It's fun to ponder. :)


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Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

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Ahhh... I shouldn't be complaining. I can't get through a single day without using my R4 / R4i!

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