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The Memory of Whiteness: A Scientific Romance

3.55  ·  Rating Details ·  449 Ratings  ·  36 Reviews
In 3229 A.D., human civilization is scattered among the planets, moons, and asteroids of the solar system. Billions of lives depend on the technology derived from the breakthroughs of the greatest physicist of the age, Arthur Holywelkin. But in the last years of his life, Holywelkin devoted himself to building a strange, beautiful, and complex musical instrument that he ca ...more
Paperback, 352 pages
Published January 15th 1996 by Orb Books (first published 1985)
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Mar 03, 2012 Robert rated it liked it
Shelves: sf
The grand theme of this book is music. I cannot think of much SF I've read where this was the case, or even a big factor: The three Crystal Singer books by Anne McCaffrey and a short story by James Blish, the latter being good and the former being OK.

Robinson, on typically ambitious form, takes us on a tour of the solar system alongside the protagonist, a composer who develops a grand vision of how music and physics relate to each other at a fundamental level and creates music that gives people
Sep 27, 2008 Hank rated it it was amazing
The Memory of Whiteness remains one of my all-time favorite books. Beyond any moral, character, or idea, this book is the only novel that I've been able to see as a work of art.

It feels, to me, the same way that one of those full-wall Salvador Dali paintings feels. It's just beautiful, and you don't know why, and you keep looking to try and figure out why, and it just keeps getting more beautiful, but it never really makes any more sense.

That doesn't mean that this intricate world doesn't make
Oct 10, 2015 Bart rated it it was ok
Shelves: speculative, reviewed
The Memory Of Whiteness: A Scientific Romance, is Kim Stanley Robinson’s third book, and from what I can gather his most philosophical. In it, he tries to tie a few threads of thought together: how determinism ties in with quantum physics and free will; art as representation of reality; how human thinking corresponds with reality & direct and indirect kinds of knowledge. The device KSR uses to connect all this is music.

The Memory Of Whiteness is philosophical musings first, and story second.
Autant le dire tout de suite, j’ai rarement lu de livre aussi puissant par sa construction et par les réflexions dans lesquelles il plonge le lecteur. Et du coup, pour tout dire, j’ai rarement lu de livre aussi bien.

Un petit résumé
Je rerésume, parce que la quatrième de couverture est encore une fois odieusement mauvaise, fausse et dénuée d’intérêt (pourtant, j’ai acheté ce bouquin sur la foi de cette susdite quatrième de couverture). Donc, ce roman nous raconte la grande tournée que fait, apr
Jul 21, 2010 Rob rated it really liked it
The Memory of Whiteness is Robinson's third novel, after The Wild Shore and Icehenge . It's a very unusual book, to me, it really stands out in Robinson's oeuvre. Much of his work deals with science and many of the characters are scientists. In this novel science plays a large role in this novel as well but this time it is not so much the process and the ways it can change the world but rather the world view that is influence by a scientific theory. The first time I read it, in 2006 I believe ...more
Aug 31, 2009 Tiffany rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Tiffany by: my childhood best friend
Shelves: fiction, fantasy
I debated whether to put three or four stars. I read this book as a (weird) young person, and it was lent to me by my equally weird friend, who had a year on me. And when we read it, we couldn't stop talking about it. It was huge for us, because, like us, it was, well, weird. It was very surreal. We talked about it and talked about it, and one day her books disappeared, we think her mother sold it in a yard sale. So, about three years ago, she found a copy, and we were both shot right back to ab ...more
Jun 17, 2015 Edward rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this when I was seventeen. At the time, it was a perfect mix of music, drugs and science, all of which were interests of mine. What blew my mind was the way that it shook my ideas about free will - something I had always taken for granted and never really questioned. Since then, my views have evolved, but I still find the ideas presented here compelling, and I can credit this book with opening my mind on the subject.

In terms of personal impact, then, this is a 5 star book. I am giving it
Dec 30, 2016 Todd rated it really liked it
Shelves: science-fiction
A philosophical tour de force filled with music, intrigue and cosmic wonder. This is a thrilling read.
Jan 03, 2017 Sally rated it liked it
Shelves: 2017
This book, as long-lived as the elements,
Or as the world's form, this all-gravèd tome
In cypher writ, or new made idiom ;
We for Love's clergy only are instruments ;
When this book is made thus,
Should again the ravenous
Vandals and Goths invade us,
Learning were safe ; in this our universe,
Schools might learn sciences, spheres music, angels verse.
-John Donne, "Valediction to his Book"

I enjoyed much of The Memory of Whiteness, but found the ideas somewhat impenetrable, given that they we
Adam  McPhee
He saw that they were all working together at the first step of the species' break from the home world, and he understood that if the first step were taken successfully, with balance, they could run from star to star all across the night.

A great space opera but a second tier KSR novel.

Holywelkin was a brilliant physicist whose Ten Forms of Change unified relativity and quantum mechanics and allowed humankind to bring sunlight and 1g gravity -- and thus civilization -- to the far reaches of the S
Sep 02, 2013 Helen rated it liked it
On page 146
Reading this instead of his most recent one. The combination of physics (much of it speculative) and musical composition is quite startling. It is difficult to imagine the Orchestra as anything more than a gigantic form of one man band and we see Holywelkin as a one man band at one point. There has been an undescribed event at some point which has spun chunks off the sun so there are small suns, "whitsuns", providing extra light to some planets and their moons and there are settlement
May 28, 2012 Macha rated it really liked it
4 stars. i liked this one quite a lot. quite different from Robinson's usual story. it's a far future sf, vividly set on a space opera stage. makes me think of stuff like Keith Roberts' Pavane, that kind of story, though it's easy enough to see Jack Vance in it too. the worlds are interesting, but the big deal is the main conceit: a galactic culture based on music, the nature of the interface between the audience and the work, and the nature and influence of artistic principles in engendering ch ...more
Oct 30, 2008 Matthew rated it really liked it
Shelves: scientastic
In which a half-mad musician travels the solar system in the 33rd century on a Grand Tour concert. He plays a unique instrument called the Orchestra, invented by a reclusive physicist whose discoveries radically transformed the human understanding of the universe, and he is convinced that he can use it to capture the mathematical structure of reality in the form of music.

A weird little book. Haunting, somehow, and uneven. Sometimes as minutely structured as a concerto, and other times as impres
David C. Mueller
Aug 30, 2010 David C. Mueller rated it it was amazing
This novel takes place about twelve hundred years from the present. In that far future era, humanity has colonized the entire solar system and created a seemingly improbable but enthralling family of utopian societies. The main character of the story is a master musician and the plot follows a performance tour he makes of numerous human habitats and settlements. A key element in this novel is The Orchestra, a complex and mysterious musical instrument possessing powers far beyond that of normal i ...more
Oct 25, 2013 Mark rated it it was ok
I will begin by stating that this is NOT a romance novel. It is a story which takes place in the year 3229 and follows the musical tour of Johannes as he plays a one man instrument known as, "The Orchestra". It gets very complicated with a major plot point being attempts made on Johannes life/safety. I am still a little foggy on the details of what life-altering knowledge Johannes discovered. The descriptions of his music were done in a way to mystify and attempt to explain it's weirdness. The a ...more
Aug 24, 2009 Katherine rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was KSR's second book, and it is as strange and wonderful as all the rest. It is particularly unnerving to read it after having read the Mars Trilogy and 2312, as several elements from those books are present here -- he definitely took some concepts from this book and spun them out into full length novels.

What is it about? I guess you could say "The Music of the Spheres." It's dense and sometimes unfathomable, I often feel like I am not quite intelligent enough to fully grasp what's going o
Dec 10, 2010 Alexander rated it really liked it
Shelves: sci-fi
This is probably the weirdest of KSR's books that I have read - it starts off with a musician going blind and ends with some fantastically trippy scenes which I'm not sure have profound thoughts connected to them (unlike some other books). Very good for those that may not read sci-fi, or want to blend physics and music - and one of the best pure stories (rather than worlds which happen to have a story going on) that KSR has written.
Jul 30, 2016 Mike rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of the most interesting science fiction novels I've read. It blends a narrative about the future with a strong sense of historical change over time. The characters are well conceived, and the descriptions of the worlds visited superb. This novel is not for everyone; the author pushes back against the idea of a page-turning thriller. Nor will the ending be universally appreciated. Nevertheless, a novel about the relationship between music and physics is worth one's attention.
Apr 26, 2012 Elaine rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
another reread - or rather, attempt at reread. Not sure at all why I kept the book. Impenetrable, unlikeable, no 'music' to it for me. I'd read a little, put it down, read a little more, put it down - until I finally got to the point where I decided it was simply not worth my effort, skimmed a bit, peeked at the end, and gave the book away.
Frederick Gault
Aug 20, 2013 Frederick Gault rated it did not like it
On page 75 of my copy a character says, ". . . You must allow me to defend the act of writing about music." The protagonist answers, "It needs defending . . . I can't imagine anything more futile." The author is writing about music, which is futile - and it makes this book unreadable!
Sep 19, 2007 Susan rated it did not like it
Terran and I have consulted, and neither of us really remembers what happened in this book, only that we loathed it. It may be a mental block to protect us from continued pain.

We're not sure, but we think it had something to do with a one-man orchestra traveling through the solar system.
Nov 14, 2008 Terran rated it did not like it
I have forced my way through worse books. But this is pretty far down the heap. I don't get a lot of joy from KSR's writing on the best of days, but this is by far his most dreadful effort. (At least, of those that I've bothered to pick up.)
Mar 27, 2008 Chadwick rated it really liked it
Shelves: music, sf
music, and how written music relates to determinism. imaginary higher physics. the importance of the illusion of free will.
Sep 09, 2013 Dan rated it really liked it
A good, interesting, but slight odd book. One that many like and others dislike. Sort of a parable. I fit it in with The Short, Sharp Shock another book of his.
Mar 05, 2009 Mary rated it it was ok
It was ok but very hard to follow maybe ok for philosophical purposes but I did not get that too much.

Started out ok however ended up being too vague a story line to follow for me.
Krait rated it liked it
Sep 18, 2009
Dave Storey
Dave Storey rated it did not like it
Jan 03, 2016
Emily Wheeler
Emily Wheeler rated it it was amazing
Feb 28, 2014
Alison Howard
Alison Howard rated it liked it
Sep 21, 2010
Bill rated it really liked it
Nov 10, 2014
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Kim Stanley Robinson is an American science fiction writer, probably best known for his award-winning Mars trilogy.

His work delves into ecological and sociological themes regularly, and many of his novels appear to be the direct result of his own scientific fascinations, such as the 15 years of research and lifelong fascination with Mars which culminated in his most famous work. He has, due to his
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“So you attempt what De Bruik attempted, in her Free Radical Binds to Macromolecule.” “We all attempt what De Bruik attempted, in one way or another.” In Free Radical De Bruik had represented the macromolecule, an RNA strand, as a passacaglia, a ground base repeated again and again, in patterns of four that alternated regularly. This was a simple icon, a metaphor in which the repeated ground base stood for the repeated proteins in the RNA; fine. And the free radical’s part was a test for any trumpet player.” 0 likes
“But it is an orchestra,” I say. “It’s an imitation orchestra—an orchestrion, an orchestrina—whatever you call it, it does a terrible job! All you’ve done is turn a sublime group achievement, a human act, into an inferior egotistical solo—” 0 likes
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