With the same unique vision that brought his now classic Mars trilogy to vivid life, bestselling author Kim Stanley Robinson boldly imagines an alternate history of the last seven hundred years. In his grandest work yet, the acclaimed storyteller constructs a world vastly different from the one we know. . . .
“A thoughtful, magisterial alternate history from one of science fiction’s most important writers.”—The New York Times Book Review
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—one that stretches across centuries, sees dynasties and nations rise and crumble, and spans horrible famine and magnificent innovation.
Through the eyes of soldiers and kings, explorers and philosophers, slaves and scholars, Robinson navigates a world where Buddhism and Islam are the most influential and practiced religions, while Christianity is merely a historical footnote. Probing the most profound questions as only he can, Robinson shines his extraordinary light on the place of religion, culture, power—and even love—in this bold New World.
“Exceptional and engrossing.”—New York Post
“Ambitious . . . ingenious.”—Newsday
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.
I only rate items five stars if they change my life. Yes, I will be the first to admit there are slow passages, but the reimagination of the world is truly mind blowing. The book takes place in a world where European culture became extinct during the black death, and then recolonized by the other great cultures of the world. The depth and examination of other cultures as they evolve into a modern technological culture is brilliant. The whole book is tied together by vignettes of the afterlife, as we see the same characters born and reborn as they struggle towards enlightenment. Truly magical
This is a great speculative history imagining Europe completely wiped out by the Black Death and the other cultures carrying on. Excellent read!
SF literature - highly recommend
I read this book in 2002 and it instantly became ‘my favorite book.’ I think about it all the time and it turned me into an insatiable reader of KSR. I’m buying it again, but this time as an ebook, so I can follow along with the podcast Marooned on Mars as they do an in-depth reading this month.