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The Years of Rice and Salt

3.71  ·  Rating Details ·  7,953 Ratings  ·  854 Reviews
Award-winning author Kim Stanley Robinson delivers a thoughtful and powerful examination of cultures and the people who shape them. How might human history be different if 14th-century Europe was utterly wiped out by plague, and Islamic and Buddhist societies emerged as the world's dominant religious and political forces? The Years of Rice and Salt considers this question ...more
Hardcover, 672 pages
Published February 26th 2002 by Bantam (first published 2002)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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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
Jan 25, 2016 Ted rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Fans of alternate history
4 1/2 stars. Now rounded up to 5


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 plus centuries (up to roughly the present day) are dominated by an Old World population predominantly Taoist or Mus
...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
Mosca
Oct 08, 2012 Mosca rated it it was amazing  ·  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
Zab
Jul 27, 2007 Zab rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: otherworlds
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
Jack
May 08, 2008 Jack rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Aerin
Nov 05, 2015 Aerin rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Now there is nothing left to do
But scribble in the dusk and watch with the beloved
Peach blossoms float downstream.
Looking back at all the long years
All that happened this way and that
I think I liked most the rice and the salt.


The Years of Rice and Salt is a thick, dense alternate history spanning continents and centuries. Its vast cast of characters includes, as the blurb puts it, "soldiers and kings, explorers and philosophers, slaves and scholars". Through their eyes we see the forces that sh
...more
Chadwick
Jul 14, 2008 Chadwick rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
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
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
Jess
Sep 11, 2016 Jess rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016-books
Finishing this book was a chore. It was impressively researched, decently written, and incredibly insightful, but at the end of the day I found myself glancing at my watch and trying to remember why I was supposed to care.

The marketing of the book is quite misleading. This isn't just a straightforward alternate history book--What if the Black Death killed off 99% of Europeans and the rest of the world's civilizations survived? Rather more importantly, it is a story about reincarnation. You star
...more
kaśyap

A sprawling historical narrative spanning centuries. The major theme dealt with in this book is the speculative philosophy of history.
Does history as whole have a structure? A direction? Is there a teleological sense to history? Is history a progress? The author’s opinion here seems to be in the affirmative and so he leaves us with a lot of optimism at the end of the story.

This book is set during the period of Christian domination. In this alternate history, a plague kills almost all the Christi
...more
Fantasy Literature
In The Years of Rice and Salt, Kim Stanley Robinson uses the Black Plague to remove the Europeans, leaving the Old World to the Chinese, Islam, and the many cultural groups that end up in India. The Chinese discover the Americas, their diseases spread through the Native American populations, and their armies plunder the Incans. The novel begins with the Plague, but its vignettes move from one period of history to the next until it reaches the end of the 20th century.

How do you write a novel abou
...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
Cpd
Jul 08, 2007 Cpd rated it did not like it
Shelves: whativeread
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
Aug 13, 2007 S.A. Parham rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sci-fi
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
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
Koshin
Jul 02, 2007 Koshin rated it it was amazing
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
Derek
Jul 07, 2011 Derek rated it did not like it
I was very disappointed. It's not that the book is badly written - it isn't - but I thought I was reading a "what-if-European-civilization-had-never-developed" novel, but really it seems completely irrelevant that the Europeans were wiped out in a plague. Instead, it's a series of vignettes about life in other parts of the world, that seem like they could have occurred with or without Europeans present.
M.G. Mason
Aug 18, 2012 M.G. Mason rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jonathon
Mar 11, 2014 Jonathon rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I knew the basic premise going in; what if the black death had killed off 99% of the population of Europe instead of the historical 30%. What I didn't expect was the form it would take in a novel: a series of somewhat interconnected short stories following the reincarnation of various characters through hundreds of years of history. At first I didn't know what one had to do with the other until the novel began to bring up themes of reincarnation as do-over, a chance to try things again in differ ...more
Jeff
Aug 17, 2010 Jeff rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
Cassandra
This isn't an easy book to read, and it's not at all what I expected. The blurb describes a world where the bubonic plague wipes out 99% of Europeans, making European civilization and Christianity a mere footnote of history. This is a super interesting premise, and I expected a sweeping historical tale in the style of A Game of Thrones. Instead, the book itself is divided into ten stories scattered across the world and time. In most cases, the stories are so focused on the characters that it's h ...more
joyce
Sep 09, 2007 joyce rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Umberto Rossi
Nov 19, 2014 Umberto Rossi rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of the greatest science-fiction novels ever. An impressive achievement in terms of size, depth, ambition, visionary power. A contemporary classic.
Quirkyreader
Dec 09, 2015 Quirkyreader rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Take the time to read this one. It's a mindblower.
Hadrian
Jan 27, 2011 Hadrian rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fantasy, fiction
Very interesting premise and setting, but dragged on a bit.
fromcouchtomoon
Feb 16, 2015 fromcouchtomoon rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Possibly my most favorite book ever.
Mary Guthrie
May 21, 2016 Mary Guthrie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
My feeling is that until the number of whole lives is greater than the number of shattered lives, we remain stuck in some kind of prehistory, unworthy of humanity’s great spirit. History as a story worth telling will only begin when the whole lives outnumber the wasted ones. That means we have many generations to go before history begins. All the inequalities must end; all the surplus wealth must be equitably distributed. Until then we are still only some kind of gibbering monkey, and humanity, ...more
Zayn Gregory
Aug 03, 2015 Zayn Gregory rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
An alternative history where all the Europeans die in the Black Death and the great civilizations of the world are Islam and China. Such an exciting premise. We follow three kindred souls through group reincarnations era after era. The way their essential inclinations and human potentials are encouraged or limited by the circumstances fate delivers them is my favorite part of the book and leads to some poignant moments. Details of the new Earth fire the imagination from time to time, like the te ...more
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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...

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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.” 44 likes
“The word of God came down to man as rain to soil, and the result was mud, not clear water. (Bistami) Pg. 128” 11 likes
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