In our rapidly-changing world of "social media", everyday people are more and more able to sort themselves into social groups based on finer and finer criteria. In the near future of Robert Charles Wilson's The Affinities, this process is supercharged by new analytic technologies--genetic, brain-mapping, behavioral. To join one of the twenty-two Affinities is to change one's life. It's like family, and more than family. Your fellow members aren't just like you, and they aren't just people who are likely to like you. They're also the people with whom you can best cooperate in all areas of life--creative, interpersonal, even financial. At loose ends both professional and personal, young Adam Fisk takes the suite of tests to see if he qualifies for any of the Affinities, and finds that he's a match for one of the largest, the one called Tau. It's utopian—at first. Problems in all areas of his life begin to simply sort themselves out, as he becomes part of a global network of people dedicated to helping one another—to helping him. But as the differing Affinities put their new powers to the test, they begin to rapidly chip away at the power of governments, of global corporations, of all the institutions of the old world. Then, with dreadful inevitability, the different Affinities begin to go to war--with one another. What happens next will change Adam, and his world, forever.
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Wilson (Burning Paradise) works a fascinating transformation on one of the oldest plot devices in SF: people who are widely hated for their inherent difference from the rest of humankind. Those who join one of the 22 Affinity groups are normal people with normal abilities, but careful screening by InterAlia, a private company, places them in groups of particularly compatible fellow members, allowing for an unusual degree of cooperation and happiness. Adam Fisk, dissatisfied with his life and his unhappy family, gets tested and is assigned to the Tau group. At his first Tau gathering, he feels like he's finally come home. As the years pass, however, laid-back Tau and the stiff-necked Het group consistently outperform the others, as well as the unaffiliated. InterAlia goes bankrupt, portable test kits become available, and international tensions soar; the U.S. government considers legislation designed to corral the Affinities' successes, and Tau and Het increasingly come into conflict. Adam is caught up in the growing violence with no idea of how to stop it. Wilson's trademark well-developed characters and understated but compelling prose are very much in evidence in this quietly believable tale of the near future.