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Literature / Spin

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Spin is a sci-fi trilogy by Robert Charles Wilson, featuring the novels Spin, Axis, and Vortex.

The first book in the series, Spin, follows narrator Tylor Dupree and his childhood friends, twins Jason and Diane Lawton. As children they witness the strange phenomenon that alters the course of human history: the night the stars disappeared from the night sky. As they grow up, the world slowly discovers the truth: the Earth has been covered by a membrane (dubbed "the Spin") that slows down the flow of time on our planet. A lot.

So much so that after about fifty years on Earth, over four billion years will pass outside. By that time the sun will expand into a red giant and destroy the planet.

Trying to find out where the Spin came from, and looking for ways to survive the destruction of Earth, forms the plot of Spin.

Spin contains examples of:

  • Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: Humanity and other races "upload" themselves to the Hypothetical network in order to survive the end of the universe. They somehow manage to make it to the multiverse layer, where many older races already live in a disembodied state.
  • Belief Makes You Stupid: The twins, Jason and Diane, take two different paths in life. Jason becomes an influential genius scientist, working to decrypt the mysteries of the Spin and possibly save the world. Diane, on the other hand, turns to religion and goes off the deep end, eventually ending up in a cult in the middle of desert in Arizona, playing subservient housewife to her Perpetual Smiler Wide-Eyed Idealist husband. A husband who later lets Diane nearly die after she contracts a serious illness because he thinks the rapture will be happening soon and there's no point in getting her any sort of treatment.
  • Benevolent Alien Invasion: Not an invasion, but "The Hypotheticals" wrap Earth (and later Mars) in spin membranes to protect their indigenous civilizations from societal collapse long enough for the Archways to arrive, as they lack any other form of faster than light travel. Of course, the main reason this is being done is not because of any benevolence on the Hypotheticals' part. They simply see organic civilizations as nurseries for more Von Neumann-type probes they can absorb, so preserving those civilizations makes practical sense to them.
  • Big Dumb Object: The Archway, a gargantuan arch later discovered to be a full circle, just halfway embedded into the Earth stretching across the Indian Ocean and reaching out of the atmosphere. Near the end of Spin it's discovered that the Archway is a gateway to an earth-like planet, light years away, intended for humanity to colonize and expand into.
  • Bio-Augmentation: The "Fourth Age". Available to the protagonists late in the story, it is a nano-augmentation that fundamentally changes the user in both physical and neurological ways. Dubbed by some as "the adulthood beyond adulthood" due to the mental clarity and maturity that a Fourth exhibits. Also allows for different advanced "modules" to be installed that include the ability to communicate with a network of other nanotech.
  • Black Sheep: Diane, whose father and brother are contemptuous of her new religion.
  • Child Prodigy: Jason Lawton. His oppressive father, E.D. Lawton, realized Jason's potential and spent his entire life grooming him for power and feeding his potential, intending Jason to take over the family business after he dies.
  • Colonized Solar System: Mars is terraformed and colonized by Earth. Due to the Year Outside, Hour Inside premise, the Martian colony becomes technologically advanced enough to develop interstellar travel (of a sort) and longevity treatments within the lifetime of the protagonists.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Jason and Diane's father, E. D. Lawton, who cares more about making money off strategies to deal with the Spin than whether or not those strategies are actually effective.
  • Disappeared Dad: Lise Adams's father mysteriously disappeared on his way from work 10 years before the events of Axis. Lise has spent most of her adult life looking for clues as to his disappearance. It turns out he was kidnapped, tortured for information, and killed by DGS for his knowledge of the Fourths.
  • Faster-Than-Light Travel: Averted by the Hypotheticals, who are revealed to be a collective of Von Neumman replicators that stretch across the whole galaxy and are forced to "think" very slowly due to the distance between them and the speed of light. Played straight with the Archway, but only because it's part of a Portal Network.
  • First Contact: Not so much. "The Hypotheticals" that are presumably responsible for the Spin membrane never directly speak with humanity or even explain their motives. Justified in that it's discovered that their cognition is so slow that any sort of "contact" or communication is impossible. We Are as Mayflies indeed.
  • For Science!: The reasoning behind what Dr. Avram Dvali does to Isaac. Also, to an extent, Jason's goals.
  • Framing Device: Used in Spin and Vortex. In Spin, the main events are actually the diary of the protagonist Tyler Dupree, which he writes as he undergoes the Fourth treatment. in Vortex, the story of Turk is read by a Houston social worker as written by a mentally-challenged kid (it was placed in his head by Isaac Dvali from the original timeline).
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Isaac makes one at the end of Vortex in order to make Turk's life better in an alternate reality. He also unintentionally helps to make Orin's life better (young Turk accidentally killed Orin in the original timeline).
  • Hive Mind: The cortical and limbic democracies in Vortex allow people to share thoughts and emotions, respectively, depending on which of the parts of the brain the node is attached to. Each person is still an individual, but is massively affected by the merging, especially in limbic democracies. Vox is a limbic democracy with the overall consciousness being called "Corypheus". The Corypheus's overriding goal is to reach Earth and make contact with the Hypotheticals. Attempts were also made to make cortical-limbic democracies, but they invariably failed with massive casualties. Eventually, limbic democracies are abandoned, as cortical democracies are more stable and less prone to collective insanity.
  • Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: One-Word Title, and spin-related words: Spin, Axis, Vortex.
  • Imported Alien Phlebotinum: It's eventually revealed that much of advanced Martian bio and nanotech is derived from remains of Hypothetical machines that periodically fall onto the planet like shooting stars.
  • Inadequate Inheritor: Jason's father feels this way about handing off control of Perihelion, the government agency responsible for managing the Spin, to Jason. That's because Jason, unlike his father, is not a Corrupt Corporate Executive, who sees Perihelion as a means to get more government funding and political influence. Jason intends to use Perihelion to do what it's supposed to do - study the Spin.
  • Lovable Rogue: Turk Findley in Axis.
  • Nanomachines: Used as a gigantic data gathering network, intended to span multiple star systems. This is what "The Hypotheticals" are revealed to be.
  • No Conservation of Energy: Due to the time differential, the people on Earth would normally be subject to three year's worth of sunlight every second. The Spin somehow absorbs all this energy to keep people safe, but where exactly this energy goes is never explained (it isn't radiated away, at least).
    • Maybe it goes towards maintaining that time dilation field.
  • One-Word Title: All three books: Spin, Axis and Vortex.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: "Turk" Findley's real first name is never mentioned. He got his nickname after his family lived in Istanbul for a while. Most people just assume Turk is his real name.
  • Portal Network: Buying time to set this up is the purpose of the Spin membrane, since the portals have to be towed into place the slow way (i.e. slower than light, which takes millions of years to get anywhere appreciable).
  • Set Right What Once Went Wrong: Isaac does this at the end of Vortex. However, it's done in an alternate timeline, as Isaac's original universe has already died.
  • Starfish Aliens: The only character who manages something resembling "communication" with The Hypotheticals ends up dying from the episode. Without the aliens even realizing. It turns out they weren't even trying to communicate in the first place. The character in question describes it as the aliens trying to assimilate him via his nanotech - they don't realize that he's an intelligent being and think that his nanotech is just an exploitable system they can absorb, which is a normal thing for them to do
  • State Sec: The Department of Genomic Security. Or, at least, its Executive Action Committee. They abduct people, torture them for information, shoot them in the head, and throw them into the sea. When the by-the-book Brian finds out the horrible truth about DGS, he quits almost immediately.
  • Terraform: As our sun expands, the habitable "goldilocks" zone around it expands, leading to Mars starting to warm up enough to become Earth-like. The humans on Earth take advantage of this and, combined with the Time Dilation of the Spin membrane, are able to easily terraform Mars into a habitable refuge. Simply load up a rocket with simple bacteria. Shoot it out of the Spin membrane in the direction of Mars. Wait a day (hundred thousand years outside). Load up another rocket with more advanced bacteria. Shoot it at Mars. Load up a final rocket with some colonists...
  • The Stars Are Going Out:
    • This happens at the beginning of Spin, as the Spin membrane goes into place.
    • This also happens at the end of Vortex when Isaac goes on his time-dilated flight through space and witnesses the end of the universe.
  • The Stoic: The main character, Tyler Dupree, though he occasionally verges into The Spock and Extreme Doormat. He's perfectly fine with people treating him like crap, taking it all with hardly an eyeblink, and is able to give humble and reasonable explanations later on for why he acts certain ways. Instead of getting angry, he simply cuts someone to their core with his words. As a love interest later in the novel (bitterly) puts it: "If reasonableness was a knife, I'd be lying on the floor and bleeding out"
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: As the last humans leave or die out on Earth and Mars, the Hypotheticals shut off the Arches leading to these planets and, eventually, shut off the Spin membrane and destroy the Arches after studying human ruins.