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The Years of Rice and Salt


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About the Author

Kim Stanley Robinson is a winner of the Hugo, Nebula, and Locus awards. He is the author of more than twenty books, including the bestselling Mars trilogy and the critically acclaimed Forty Signs of Rain, Fifty Degrees Below, Sixty Days and Counting, The Years of Rice and Salt, and Galileo's Dream. In 2008 he was named one of Time magazine's "Heroes of the Environment." He serves on the board of the Sierra Nevada Research Institute. He lives in Davis, California.


Adult/High School-In this alternative version of the history of the modern world, the bubonic plague kills almost all of the Europeans, and the West never recovers. The major world powers are Islam and China, and the major religions are Islam (in various forms) and Buddhism. Many other peoples, including Hindus, Sikhs, Japanese, and Yingzhou (from the New World) also play significant parts. 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. Through the centuries, they live and die in startlingly different ways, yet there is an underlying structure, and the characters remain familiar because they are the same group of souls, reincarnated in different places and times. After death, they meet in the Bardo, where they are judged, and then they are off on other adventures-again struggling to make progress in their "years of rice and salt" on Earth. This is an addictive, surprising, and suspenseful novel about characters and a world whose fate comes to matter considerably to readers.-Christine C. Menefee, Fairfax County Public Library, VA Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.

Having revolutionized the novel of planetary exploration with his Nebula- and Hugo-winning Mars trilogy (Red Mars, etc.), Robinson is attempting to do the same to another genre with this highly realistic and credible alternate history. It's the 14th century, and the Black Death has swept through Europe, killing not 30% or 40% of the population but 99%. With Europeans now no more than a historical curiosity, the empires of China and Islam spread rapidly across the world. India, caught between superpowers, struggles to maintain its independence until, fueled by a scientific renaissance, its forces besiege and conquer the great city that in our world would be called Constantinople. The New World is discovered by the Chinese, who rapidly settle the west coast, while an Islamic fleet lands at the mouth of the Mississippi. Eventually, the enlightened Indian nation of Travancore comes to the aid of the beleaguered native people of the New World. New technologies appear as the centuries go by and, as often as not, are applied to military ends. Adding a mystical balance and a human note to this counterfactual history is a small cast of recurring characters who live through each episode of the book as soldiers, slaves, philosophers and kings. Dying, they spend time in the afterlife, only to be reborn into the next era, generally with no knowledge of their past lives. Robinson, who has previously demonstrated his mastery of alternate history in the classic short story "The Lucky Strike" and his Three Californias sequence, has created a novel of ideas of the best sort, filled to overflowing with philosophy, theology and scientific theory. (Mar. 5) Forecast: The restrained jacket art, not at all typical of SF, suggests the publisher is aiming to attract intelligent mainstream readers as well. Certainly the depiction of how a moderate or even a liberal Islamic state might evolve couldn't be more timely. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

A warrior with the army of Tamarlane turns his back on a plague-infested village in Eastern Europe, a Chinese widow rediscovers a new purpose in her life, and an alchemist risks his life and his reputation in the name of invention. These are just a few of the vignettes that propel this panoramic tale of soldiers, philosophers, emperors, and slaves caught up in a cycle of reincarnation and evolution. Beginning in an alternate 14th century in which the Black Death has wiped out European civilization and left the burden of human progress to the descendants of Islam and Buddhism, Robinson, author of the Mars trilogy, recycles characters and themes while exploring a world without the cornerstones of "Western" culture. Superb storytelling and imaginative historic speculation make this a standout novel and a priority choice for all sf and general fiction collections. Highly recommended. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

"A thoughtful, magisterial alternate history from one of science fiction's most important writers."-The New York Times Book Review

"Exceptional and engrossing."-New York Post

"Ambitious . . . ingenious."


"A tremendous achievement."-The Washington Post Book World

"An absorbing novel . . . a scientifically informed imagination of rare ambition at work."-The New York Times Book Review

"Promises to become a classic . . .This is epic science fiction in the best sense of the term-thoughtful, provoking, and haunting."-St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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