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The Years of Rice and Salt

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It is the fourteenth century, and one of the most apocalyptic events in human history is set to occur—the coming of the Black Death. History teaches us that a third of Europe’s population was destroyed. But what if the plague had killed 99 percent of the population instead? How would the world have changed? This is a look at the history that could have been—a history that stretches across centuries, a history that sees dynasties and nations rise and crumble, a history that spans horrible famine and magnificent innovation. These are the years of rice and salt.

This is a universe where the first ship to reach the New World travels across the Pacific Ocean from China and colonization spreads from west to east. This is a universe where the Industrial Revolution is triggered by the world’s greatest scientific minds—in India. This is a universe where Buddhism and Islam are the most influential and practiced religions, and Christianity is merely a historical footnote.

Through the eyes of soldiers and kings, explorers and philosophers, slaves and scholars, Robinson renders an immensely rich tapestry. Rewriting history and probing the most profound questions as only he can, Robinson shines his extraordinary light on the place of religion, culture, power, and even love on such an Earth. From the steppes of Asia to the shores of the Western Hemisphere, from the age of Akbar to the present and beyond, here is the stunning story of the creation of a new world.

Editorial Reviews

“Award-winning author Kim Stanley Robinson delivers a thoughtful and powerful examination of cultures and the people who shape them…The credible alternate history that Robinson constructs becomes the framework for a tapestry of ideas about philosophy, science, theology, and politics.”

Amazon.com, editorial review

“Having revolutionized the novel of planetary exploration with his Nebula- and Hugo-winning Mars trilogy, Robinson is attempting to do the same to another genre with this highly realistic and credible alternate history…[Robinson] has created a novel of ideas of the best sort, filled to overflowing with philosophy, theology, and scientific theory.”

Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Robinson’s story encompasses familiar parallels: the discovery of the Americas, religious strife and cultural breakthroughs, political tyranny and devastating world war, scientific renaissance, technological wonders, and the pursuit of happiness. Though this world is vast and complex, its history is experienced by readers on a human scale, learned through the colorful and vivid tales of individual people…This is an addictive, surprising, and suspenseful novel about characters and a world whose fate comes to matter considerably to readers.”

Library Journal

“This vast, magisterial novel is Robinson’s most ambitious effort at alternate history, a work on a scale as large as Harry Turtledove employs…Brilliantly conceived.”

Booklist

“Blessed with moments of wry and gentle beauty as friends and antagonists rediscover each other under different guises in exotically dangerous locales.”

Kirkus Reviews

“Hugo winner Robinson follows three characters over seven centuries on an alternate Earth in which Islam and Buddhism are the dominant religions…Blessed with moments of wry and gentle beauty as friends and antagonists rediscover each other under different guises in exotically dangerous locales.”

Kirkus Reviews

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    • 4/5

    Entertaining but I Wanted More Imagination

    Rogue Writer May 29, 2015
    This book is so beloved by those who have read and reviewed the print version that I hesitate to rattle the cage. Alas, I must say it. This book didn’t go close to far enough for me. I wanted to read about an actual different world. Instead, we are presented with a history that essentially mirrors our own with merely the primary players changed. This epic story could have gone in many different directions, but it stuck pretty close in the grand scheme to our own history.

    The idea of a Da Vinci arising without the environment – political, religious, and social – to create the conditions for such a figure to arise shows a disconnect of the author’s understanding of history as it has taken place. In fact, there are so many replays of actual history in this alternate history that it would appear that the author is trying to say, “Stop blaming European Christians for the course of history. It would have played out with the same results anyway.”

    Another problematic aspect of the book is that the author places modern Chinese, Buddhist, Islamic, and Arabic conventions and sensibilities on those of the past.

    Another aspect I found off-putting was the use of reincarnation dogma and its visual representation. Having the various characters discuss what they did wrong in their former lives felt rather cartoonish to me and felt far too much like the author offering up a “and the moral of that chapter was…”

    Okay, okay. I’ve harped on this story long enough. If you listen to this book as entertainment, i.e. you don’t take it seriously or dig no deeper than the surface, this book is going to fit the bill. It has plenty of action. Although it gets a bit cerebral and ethereal at times, the author (mostly) knows when to dial it back in. If you’re a fan of Robinson’s sci-fi, this book won’t be quite as entertaining, as this is a major divergence from the stellar adventures he’s written. You’ll have to be content with remaining on Earth with low-tech stuffs.
    No 0 | Yes 0

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Author Biography

Kim Stanley Robinson is noted for the verisimilitude of his characters and for the meticulously researched hard-science basis of his work. His works contain ecological themes and emphasize the strong link between the human characters and the natural world. He has won both the Nebula and Hugo awards. 

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Reader Biography

Bronson Pinchot, an Audie Award–winning narrator, received his education at Yale University, which filled out what he had already received at his mother’s knee in the all-important areas of Shakespeare, Greek art and architecture, and the Italian Renaissance. He restores Greek Revival buildings and appears in television, film, and on stage whenever the pilasters and entablatures overwhelm him.

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