The Years of Rice and Salt
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The Years of Rice and Salt

3.7 of 5 stars 3.70  ·  rating details  ·  5,198 ratings  ·  596 reviews
A vanguard of the Mongol horde rides west across the steppes into an eerily silent world. People lie dead in villages and in the streets of towns. The Black Death has struck Europe. There are virtually no survivors.

Into this empty land pour merchants, warlords and refugees, and from that day forward history is shaped by the East instead of the West. Japanese ships cross th...more
Paperback, 772 pages
Published 2003 by Harper Collins (first published 2002)
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Clouds

Christmas 2010: I realised that I had got stuck in a rut. I was re-reading old favourites again and again, waiting for a few trusted authors to release new works. Something had to be done.

On the spur of the moment I set myself a challenge, to read every book to have won the Locus Sci-Fi award. That’s 35 books, 6 of which I’d previously read, leaving 29 titles by 14 authors who were new to me.

While working through this reading list I got married, went on my honeymoon, switched career and became
...more
Ted
I've added an addendum to this review at the bottom.

4 1/2 stars. This was my first read of a book by Robinson. I will certainly be reading others.

It's alternative history, a very believable tale of how the world's civilizations would have (could have) developed if, in the fourteenth century, the plague that killed 30-60% of the people in Europe had instead killed virtually 100% (including almost all Christians and Jews), while being less virulent in the middle east and Asia. The subsequent six p...more
Travis Johns
lesson to be learned: just because you like one book (or in this case, three) by a particular author doesn't necessarily have to imply that you will have to like all books. This, my darlings, is a blatant case in point.

Thy premise: The black plague knocks out 99 percent of Western Europe - so far, so good. However, instead of focusing on the immediate after effects of such an event, as is the case with the first chapter, albeit in somewhat of a too stylistically poetic fashion, the novel instea...more
Saadiq Wolford
Dear Kim Stanley Robinson,

I think your Mars trilogy is one of the greatest pieces of science fiction every written. I've read it twice in the past ten years and will probably read it three more times before I grow old. I even read the first book in your eco-thriller trilogy and, though there's not much plot to speak of, thought it was interesting. In short, I love you, man, you're mi hermano.

But, damn, how did you manage to screw The Years of Rice and Salt up? The concept is golden: the plague c...more
Zab
In retrospect, it's surprising that there aren't MORE fantasy novels about a group of people being reincarnated multiple times, with lives sprawling through a centuries-long alternate history. But, if there were, most all of them would not be as good as this.

The reincarnation plot (complete with matter-of-fact scenes set in the "bardo" between lives) is an excellent way of tempering what would otherwise be a sometimes depressing plot. Basically, the novel starts shortly after the Black Plague ki...more
Mosca
Oct 08, 2012 Mosca rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People who love people... and history
Recommended to Mosca by: Kim Stanley Robinson
Shelves: favorites
.....................................

What if the White European Christians had almost all died out in in the fourteenth century?

Kim Stanley Robinson has written an Alternative History that isn't steam punk, nor Nazis winning WW2.

This is a smart, well constructed, work of historical inquiry that spans seven centuries without the assumed Caucasian and "Christian" historical domination. There are a small cast of well constructed thoroughly "human" characters who live through those seven centuries i...more
Jack
A classic of speculative fiction. This one has really stuck with me, and continues to inform my thinking on any number of topics, not least the clash of civilizations, the impermanence of human culture, the non-inevitability of European historical domination, how indigenous American societies might have survived and thrived, and more.

The book starts somewhat slowly, but is worth sticking with. Terrific circular structure to the storytelling becomes more and more powerful as the various tales and...more
Chadwick
An alternate history, in which the what-if is, what if European culture had been totally eradicated by the Black Plague. Using the conceit of a group of repeatedly reincarnated souls returning again and again as the thousand-odd year saga unfolds, Robinson hits yet again with a thoroughly brilliant work that asks all of the important questions that face us concerning life on earth, most crucially: how do we get it right?

In The Years of Rice and Salt, the world ends up being divided between Isla...more
Daniel Roy
Let me start by saying that I'm not generally a fan of Kim Stanley Robinson's work. I loved Red Mars, then stumbled through Green Mars and gave up in disgust at Blue Mars. I found they were filled with exposition and endless descriptions of landscapes, and I really didn't like the fact that the main characters stuck it out through three novels instead of allowing more interesting characters to take their place.

I felt drawn to The Years of Rice and Salt, even though the same annoyances seemed pre...more
Art
In an alternative history, the Black Death destroys Europe and the world is divided between China and the nations of Islam, with India and the New World asserting themselves in lesser ways. It is seen through the eyes of the same group of people, reincarnated time after time, striving to make the world a better place. It's a neat premise, and it starts out fairly strong... but I honestly wish the author resisted the temptation to include page after page after page of various character musing abo...more
Ben Babcock
I dug into The Years of Rice and Salt with much gusto, for its premise was an intriguing example of why alternate history can be so seductive. Yet almost immediately, my expectations were completely torn apart and shoved in my face. Sometimes this can be good; other times it ruins a book completely. In this case, while I quite enjoyed some of the philosophical aspects of the book, it failed to sustain my interest for its 760 pages.

In this version of history, the Black Death decimates the white C...more
Cpd
We had people over for the Fourth for the fireworks and, of course, the house had to be cleaned and by that, I mean all the books sprawled about the floor in lazy, often surly piles, crowding every available planed surface had to be reined in and brought to order. Rice & Salt got rammed into a corner atop the largest bookshelf in the living room and I'm looking at it now -- it balefully staring back at me.

I do not like this book. In fact, I've been trying to dump it for the last -- however...more
S.A. Parham
I'd seen this heavily recommended by others with similar reading tastes, so I had high expectations for it. The premise - what if the Black Plague killed 99% of Europe's population - was intriguing. For the first two or three sections, the reincarnation system of recycling the main characters even worked for me. But after a while, I started to feel like I was reading a textbook. "This happened in this era. This happened in the next era." Half the time, I didn't see the characters long enough to...more
Koshin
I really enjoyed this book. I wanted to read the book on its premise alone: What if Europe had been wiped out by the plague, how would world history have been shaped without a European influence?

The book is a series of different short stories that catalogue the lives of people at different points in the alternate history, from the time after the plagues in Europe until the modern era. Each story is an alternate history different important points that coincide with history :- The Islamic renaissa...more
M.G. Mason
Kim Stanley Robinson is one of those rare breeds in SciFi today, he writes what is traditionally called “hard” science fiction but he differs from the likes of Alastair Reynolds, Greg Bear and Peter F. Hamilton in that there is a great deal of focus on the fundamental changes in society that new technological advances bring. In this way, he is very much like Ray Bradbury.

This is a departure from Robinson’s hard scifi though as he branches out to explore the realms of alternative history; but the...more
Nikki
Rather than a novel, this is more like a series of short stories/novellas. It follows the same characters through various incarnations. In some of them the connections are easy to make, in others it's not so easy. The alternate history aspect is interesting, and couldn't have been fully explored without this device, I suppose, but I found it jarring to be jerked from time period to time period, culture to culture, and I never really fell in love with the characters as continuations of the previo...more
joyce
Hmm. I liked the Mars trilogy and had high hopes for this one but couldn't get more than 3/4 of the way through. Premise - excellent. Execution - awkward. "What if the Black Death had wiped out 99% of Europe's population instead of only 30-40%?" Whole course of history altered, etc etc. Unfortunately, it was too ambitious and might have worked better at half the scope, with the rest left to the reader's imagination.

Robinson doesn't give you enough time to really get attached to the characters be...more
Bram Wiebe
I hated this book. I liked the potential of the basic premise and the first several chapters were a decent read, but it didn't take too long to realize that there was no real discernible plot, none of the characters were interesting and the pacing was terrible. I finished it only because I was hoping that it would come together in some spectacular fashion and everything would make sense after the fact. I was sorely disappointed when I hit the last chapter and was wondering why it felt like the a...more
Jeff
I picked this up from the library after reading good things on the AVClub in a section about alternate histories. I found the premise of The Black Plague wiping out almost the entire population of Europe and how that would affect the socio-political development of the rest of the world to be very promising. Unfortunately, this premise is mere backdrop for an extremely boring story. (Someone really should re-visit this idea in the future because it holds so much potential).
I appreciate that, had...more
Joe
I really like Kim Stanley Robinson. His fiction focuses on relationships primarily, both among people to each other, and between people and the world they live in. He's definitely among the most "literary" of the science fiction A-listers, but does not use his writing to create a sense of detachment (unlike, say, David Foster Wallace, who's literary in the "oh, I'm so above everything" school, which I fucking hate). It's always a pleasure to take in the words that Robinson writes, above and beyo...more
Chad
One of the few books I couldn't force myself to finish. I usually enjoy alternate histories and post-apocalpyse fiction, so I thought I would enjoy this, but....no.

First, there didn't seem to be any overarching storyline. Characters are introduced, some contrived/random events happen, some dialog occurs, then they die. A brief interlude where the characters meet in some sort of afterlife happens, then another story starts.

I spent most of the next "story" trying to figure out who the charcters...more
Cleverusername2
This novel wasn't what I thought it would be, but that's a compliment in my book. I thought it would be a sort of medieval version of The Stand, with hoary images of Black Death ravaged cities all over Europe. Instead Robinson uses the big "What If" gimmick (what if the Black Death was 99% fatal all over Europe, causing white Christian European civilization to become a mere historical footnote) as a jumping board to write a wholly different narrative.

It is rare to read a novel with such insight...more
The other John
This is an interesting tale on two levels. The basic milieu is an alternate reality--a world in which the Black Death killed off three times the number of Europeans than it did in our world, 99% of the total population. The role that European nations played in world history is now taken by other nations, other cultures. Mr. Robinson postulates the rise of Chinese and Islamic empires that create a history that only vaguely reflects our own. The other premise that makes this novel worth reading (a...more
Terrill
Continuing my thematic reading (books about America during the 15th century), this is a fiction book describing an alternate history in which 99% of Europe is killed by the plague. Consequently, there is no Columbus, and most of the world is Buddhist or Muslim.

It's an interesting concept, which Robinson follows for over 1000 years. Every hundred pages or so he would jump ahead a few hundred years to another era and new protagonists--I find that in books like that, it's always hard to switch fro...more
Jeremy Wineberg
this is an intriguing book about a group of characters that keep getting reincarnated together, who end up fleshing out an alternative world history beginning from a "what if" that has most of christian europe dying out from a much more virile form of the black plague in the middle ages. while this may sound overly complex, and it could be, robinson's style and solid characters hold the book together, which almost, but not quite, ends up functioning more like an inter-related set of short storie...more
Gene Sullivan
While I certainly enjoyed this book, I must admit that it wasn't the book I was expecting, either from the back cover or from reading the Mars books. This didn't diminish my appreciation of the book, but it made for a slow start, since I had to keep adjusting my expectations.

There's a metaphysical component to the book that I wasn't expecting. It was slightly off-putting at first - this is Sci Fi, why are we talking about reincarnation bleah grr - but once I just, you know, read the book I was r...more
Jared Logan
Amazing book! The novel is really ten novellas set in an alternate history where the black plague wiped out 99% of Europe's population (instead of simply two-thirds as it did in our world). You go through 700 years of history as you follow three souls who are reincarnated into ten different lifetimes. As nerdy as that premise might sound, this is a book that will appeal to non-geeks as well as lovers of sci-fi and alternate history.

The author Kim Stanley Robinson shows a breadth of knowledge th...more
David
an alternative history of the world...with Chinese and
Muslim civilizations on top. Very thought provoking...


Description from Amazon.com

The Years of Rice and Salt
by Kim Stanley Robinson

>From Publishers Weekly
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 throu...more
Jesse Field
One day in the street, rattling off some story or other, she stopped and looked up at him, surprised, and said “I want to know everything!”


I respect very much the intentions of this book: to re-invent a wide range of historical readings, to activate the historical imagination, to envision a world where Islam might not seem attached at the hip to violence, intolerance and authoritarianism, and to argue for the human experience as a slow, blundering evolution towards higher moral and ethical consc...more
Mundi
This is one of those stories that you will pull the mental file on over and over again, as other books bring you back for comparison, or a small history bite will pull it up for re-examination, or even simply while lying in meditation, letting the thoughts flow around you - the events, characters, philosophies and fantasies will emerge time and time again until you can really examine this tale from every angle.
I have had to stop many times in reading this book, putting it down to really let the...more
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Alternate History: What if the plague in Europe had wiped out 90% of the population? 5 59 Sep 24, 2013 12:14PM  
Query about the Kindle edition. 4 45 Feb 21, 2013 06:55PM  
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1858
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...more
More about Kim Stanley Robinson...
Red Mars (Mars Trilogy, #1) Green Mars (Mars Trilogy, #2) Blue Mars (Mars Trilogy, #3) 2312 Forty Signs of Rain (Science in the Capitol, #1)

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“We will go out into the world and plant gardens and orchards to the horizons, we will build roads through the mountains and across the deserts, and terrace the mountains and irrigate the deserts until there will be garden everywhere, and plenty for all, and there will be no more empires or kingdoms, no more caliphs, sultans, emirs, khans, or zamindars, no more kings or queens or princes, no more quadis or mullahs or ulema, no more slavery and no more usury, no more property and no more taxes, no more rich and no more poor, no killing or maiming or torture or execution, no more jailers and no more prisoners, no more generals, soldiers, armies or navies, no more patriarchy, no more caste, no more hunger, no more suffering than what life brings us for being born and having to die, and then we will see for the first time what kind of creatures we really are.” 28 likes
“The word of God came down to man as rain to soil, and the result was mud, not clear water. (Bistami) Pg. 128” 8 likes
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