''The Years of Rice and Salt'' is a an AlternateHistory novel by writer Creator/KimStanleyRobinson, which depicts world history in an alternate timeline where the Black Plague epidemic that ravaged Europe in the 14th century was even more destructive, and caused the actual extinction of Western civilization.

With Europe out of the game, the two civilizations that grow into global superpowers in the following centuries are the Islamic world and China. Eventually, their geopolitical rivalry escalates into total war.

The story is told from the perspective of a small group of characters, who get reincarnated into new but recognizable selves from generation to generation.

!!''The Years of Rice and Salt'' contains examples of:

* AlternateHistory: One where Europe is taken out of the picture and it ripples from thereon out.
* AscendedExtra: In a couple stories, the P character (see ThemeNaming below) plays an unusually large role.
* AuthorFilibuster: Particularly in the Widow Kang section.
* AxCrazy: The K Character frequently has shades of this throughout their different lives (though usually for good reason). In particular, Kyu, the African firebug eunuch, though to be fair, the slave traders just sort of sprung the whole "eunuch" thing on him without his consent.
* TheBlackDeath: In this world, it was much more virulent, killing off just about the entirety of the European population.
* CelestialBureaucracy: Every time they die, the characters find themselves in the Bardo, where the souls of the dead await reincarnation according to Tibetan Buddhism. As China grows in power in the world of the living, the Bardo falls under the influence of the Chinese Celestial Bureaucracy.
* DisproportionateRetribution: Kokila is reincarnated into a tiger because she poisoned a guy who seduced her best friend, got her pregnant and abandoned her to die.
* EducationMama: Widow Kang mercilessly drills her youngest son in the Confucian classics in order to make a proper scholar out of him.
* EunuchsAreEvil: Kyu, though not so much evil insomuch as he's AxCrazy and pissed off.
* ForeverWar: The Long War between China and Dar al Islam lasts for over 60 years, at which point hardly anyone remembers or cares what started it in the first place. [[spoiler:China wins. Or, rather, Dar-al-Islam loses.]]
* HeroicBSOD: All characters after The Alchemist.
* KarmaHoudini: Remember Shastri, that guy Kokila killed? While she came back as a tiger, he reincarnated as a prince.
* ThePlague: In this version of history, it led to the complete depopulation of the European continent.
* PowerTrio: B, K and I, with the rest of the jati spinning around them.
** Sometimes it takes the form of a FreudianTrio, with K as TheId, B as TheEgo and I as TheSuperego.
* RageAgainstTheHeavens: K often does this in the Bardo.
* ReformedCriminal: Kheim is a former pirate who ended up an admiral of the Ming fleet. Khalid went from trying to con a Sultan to providing him with scientific military advances.
* TheRemnant: Although Western civilization is all but destroyed, a few fragments remain such as Georgia and New Norway.
* {{Reincarnation}}: The entire cast gets reincarnated repeatedly.
* RuleOfCool: During the Long War, Dar-al-Islam uses long-range artillery to '''blow the top off of Mount Everest''', making K2 (within their borders) the tallest mountain in the world. A tactic with no military value, and arguably minimal effect on enemy morale.
** At the end of the book, a more heartwarming variation, as mountain climbers bring bricks with them, rebuilding the summit piece-by-piece.
* SceneryPorn: Vibrant descriptions of the settings are frequent.
* ShoutOut: The first chapter is written in a style that imitates ''Literature/JourneyToTheWest''.
** The last chapter has a shout out to ''Literature/{{Candide}}''.
** Two characters in the "Age of Great Progress" chapter are named Kiyoaki (one of the protagonists of Creator/YukioMishima's ''The Sea of Fertility'' cycle, in which the same person is reincarnated in each book) and Tagomi (a character in ''Literature/TheManInTheHighCastle'', another very famous alternate history novel).
** The last chapter references the real-life historiographical scholarship of Hayden White, attributed to one "Scholar White" in the alternate-timeline present day.
* SpaceFillingEmpire: Dar al Islam, China, and the Hodenosaunee League.
* ThemeNaming: Taken UpToEleven to help us keep track of who was who in a past life, making all reincarnations of a character always keep the same first letter in their names.
* TooGoodForThisSinfulEarth: Butterfly and Bihari.
** [[AvertedTrope Averted]] in the fact that all characters eventually die. [[{{Reincarnation}} And come back]].
* TrainingThePeacefulVillagers: When [[{{Ronin}} Busho]] is taken in by the Hodenosaunee League, he begins to teach them about modern warfare, agriculture and industry, so that they will be able to withstand the Chinese colonizers on the West Coast and the Islamic ones on the East Coast. Centuries later, the Hodenosaunee League survives as a major world power.
* WarIsHell: The Long War can best be described as being like UsefulNotes/WorldWarOne leading directly into UsefulNotes/WorldWarTwo without a pause.
* ZeppelinsFromAnotherWorld: Airplanes remain limited to military use, while civilian airflight is accomplished mostly by airship (and later, "space planes"!).