Spin by Robert Charles Wilson


The stars have gone out, and the world is suddenly stuck inside of a time-morphing membrane, causing time to pass on Earth at a fraction of that of the universe outside.  What are the Hypotheticals–the omnipotent presence causing time to go all wibbly wobbly–and what are its plans for humanity?

A lot of the fun in Spin is not knowing what to expect.  Time has become an almost non-factor, as the characters watch billions of years pass outside of the Earth in a few decades.  Because of it, Time itself becomes a major character in the story.  Planets evolve and develop life, stars live and die, and the sun races towards a fiery death all in the blink of an eye. I won’t spoil any more of the story, but I will say that what stands out in Spin is the cast of characters, who do not seem like cardboard cutouts or the personification of a moral or idea, as is often the case in heady science fiction. You feel for the characters very much, the lifelong secrets between them, and the bitter rivalries and lost chances at love.  It’s like Philip K. Dick had a week long Downtown Abbey marathon.  It’s a wonderfully written book, and highly recommended.

On to discussion ideas, and some thoughts (and mostly unanswered questions) I have.


Reminiscent of 2001: A Space Odyssey or Childhood’s End by Clarke, Spin left me wondering about the nature of free will versus determinism in a world like this one.  Like the black monolith in 2001, in Spin the Hypotheticals are a greater life force moving human evolution along its path as it sees fit.  And in so doing, humanity realizes that its goals and accomplishments in what may be “the next step” of evolution are only stepping stones towards a greater evolution, mirroring that of the Hypotheticals. The idea of removing the barrier between the notion of “God,” or a god, and evolution makes the question of free will versus determinism a difficult one to answer.  Evolution and God become one single idea, and in so doing God becomes a tangible idea, more than a set of morals to follow, an actual personified being.  A tangible idea that humans can strive to be equals with.  So human scientists and physicists “play god” but without the overarching fears of, say, Victor Frankenstein.  Whatever kind of god the Hypotheticals are, they don’t want to punish us with guilt and hell dreams, they want us to play along.  And while the idea of the Hypotheticals does not necessarily supplant the idea of a single benevolent God, it makes you wonder where the element of free will enters into the equation, if at all.

Does the existence of something like the Hypotheticals mean free will doesn’t exist?  Though in the end we may possibly end up taking the place of these higher forces, are we still just making predetermined choices based on their unseen motives?  And if so, does that lessen the value of our work?  Or are the choices we make between the lines, the little alterations of the greater work, the smaller events that are sometimes forgotten, enough to constitute free will?  These are some things that I am left wondering with, and maybe you have thought about as well.  I’d love to hear your thoughts.


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