Saturday, April 11, 2015

Review: Vortex by Robert Charles Wilson

Vortex by Robert Charles Wilson
Published: Tor, 2011
Series: Book 3 of the Spin Sequence

Warning: This book is the final volume of a trilogy, so there are some spoilers of the first two books (Spin and Axis) ahead!

The Book:

“Turk Findley has been transported 10,000 years into the future by the Hypotheticals’ temporal arch, and now he has been taken in by a fanatical limbic democracy that expect him to facilitate their eventual glorious communion with those same Hypotheticals.  They are traveling through the series of arches that link the human worlds, moving back to the destroyed, uninhabitable Earth.

Turk is not the only survivor from his time.  Isaac Dvali, the experimental child who was created to communicate with the Hypotheticals, has also come through the temporal arch.  Turk’s other companion is Treya, a far future woman whose mind also contains the personality of a woman from his time, Allison Pearl.  In a twist of space and time, their story is filtered into the mind of a troubled young man from Turk’s past, Orrin Mather, who lives in the latter days of the dying Earth.  Tying past and future together, the story of the Spin is finally drawing to a close.” ~Allie

I’ve read a number of Robert Charles Wilson’s novels in the past, all of which I have reviewed on my blog.  I think that the more I read of his work, the more I enjoy his style of storytelling!  The Spin Sequence is a series of three novels that could be considered standalone, but which would be best read in order.  Vortex in particular feels like more of a sequel to Axis than to Spin, since it resolves the stories of two of the main characters of Axis, Turk and Isaac.  Robert Charles Wilson’s latest novel, The Affinities, will be coming out soon, on April 21st!

My Thoughts:
A different span of time is covered by each of the novels of the Spin Sequence.  Spin covered the lifetime of a group of people who experienced the night when the Hypotheticals’ shield first covered the Earth.  Axis occurred perhaps decades later, and covered specific events that occurred in a very short time frame.  Vortex ties the two schemes together with dual storylines: one that is compact in time, set in Turk’s youth, and one that is much more expansive, beginning 10,000 years later.  The two stories are connected through the character of Turk Findley and the personality of Allison Pearl, as well as by the mysterious transfer of Turk’s story from the future into the mind of Orrin Mather, a man from his past.

The two stories are linked in more subtle ways as well, such as by the development of the understanding of the Hypotheticals and by the fate of the damaged and eventually destroyed Earth.  I remember thinking in Spin that simply providing more fossil fuel resources to the Earth was not a great solution to the energy crunch problem, so I appreciated seeing the long-term effects of that play out here.  On a personal level, as well, the dual storylines address the act that has shaped and shadowed much of Turk’s life--his not-quite-accidental killing of a man, which is first mentioned in Axis.  Isaac also struggles with defining the meaning and purpose of his life, which was originally designed to serve the purposes of others.  I enjoyed the way the stories complemented each other, and was eager to learn what was behind their more mysterious, direct connection.

In addition to being nicely complementary, I felt that the two separate storylines were intriguing in their own rights.  In Turk’s past, the story was told from the point of view of the psychiatrist Sandra Cole, who is initially tasked with interviewing Orrin Mather to determine his suitability to be taken into a Texan involuntary psychiatric care system.  The cop on his case, Bose, introduces Sandra to Orrin’s story of Turk Findley’s future, and together they try to uncover the truth behind the origin of his writings and why someone seems to want him to be locked up.  The story covers a place and time in human history we haven’t seen much of in the trilogy, where the environment of the Earth is in decline and the Martian extended life treatment is a controversial issue.  The far-future is suitably strange, with the limbic democracy of the giant floating island of Vox, it’s hard-coded faith in the Hypotheticals, and the ‘cortical democracies’ that oppose them.  I enjoyed following Turk as he learned how things work in this strange new world, and saw both the appeal and horror of this particular new human way of life.  The conclusion of the series ties everything together, and it provides the kinds of revelations and explanations that I have been patiently waiting for since Spin without losing the story’s emotional, human core.  Altogether, I think this was an excellent conclusion to a highly entertaining series.

My Rating: 4.5/5  

Vortex provides a wonderful conclusion to a series that I have enjoyed, and it finally provides some of the answers to the questions first raised in Spin. The narrative manages to handle both large and small scale, by focusing on two storylines that are separated by 10,000 years.  Each of these stories are entertaining in their own right and complementary to one another, and they are tied together beautifully in the final act.  In the far future, the story follows Turk Findley, who has awaken to find himself a guest of the fanatical limbic democracy Vox, a mobile nation that is headed for the dead Earth and communion with the Hypotheticals.  His story is somehow transferred into the mind of Orrin Mather, a drifter who lived on the dying Earth in the time of Turk’s youth.  The novel relates the grandeur and horror of events that have shaped humanity and the universe, without losing touch with the emotional, human journey of its handful of characters.  I’m happy that the series has ended on such a high note, though I am a bit sad that my experience of this interesting universe and its characters has now come to a close.

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