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The Years of Rice and Salt

3.72  ·  Rating details ·  9,616 Ratings  ·  1,047 Reviews
It is the fourteenth century and one of the most apocalyptic events in human history is set to occur - the coming of the Black Death. History teaches us that a third of Europe's population was destroyed. But what if? What if the plague killed 99 percent of the population instead? How would the world have changed? This is a look at the history that could have been: a histor ...more
Mass Market Paperback, 763 pages
Published June 3rd 2003 by Bantam Books (first published June 3rd 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
Bradley
Jan 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This one's going right in the category of OMG this is epic SF of a very serious nature and scope.

It goes well beyond the "normal" subgenre of alternate histories to throw us into a vast and very impressive exploration of China and India as they completely dominate the culture and space of the entire world under the slight alteration: that most of the Caucasian world died off in the Black Plague.

It's really gorgeous and it flows really well. Expect many short novellas giving us snippets of time f
...more
Ted
May 26, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Fans of alternate history
4 1/2 stars. Now rounded up to 5


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 Muslim,
...more
Saadiq Wolford
Apr 15, 2008 rated it it was ok
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
Travis Johns
May 27, 2008 rated it it was ok
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
Claudia
TRIPITAKA: Monkey, how far is it to the Western Heaven, the abode of Buddha?
WU-KONG: You can walk from the time of your youth till the time you grow old, and after that, till you become young again; and even after going through such a cycle a thousand times, you may still find it difficult to reach the place where you want to go. But when you perceive, by the resoluteness of your will, the Buddha-nature in all things, and when every one of your thoughts goes back to that fountain in your memor
...more
Mosca
Dec 29, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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 rated it really liked it
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
Bettie☯
Rosado on the road.

Description: It is the fourteenth century and one of the most apocalyptic events in human history is set to occur - the coming of the Black Death. History teaches us that a third of Europe's population was destroyed. But what if? What if the plague killed 99 percent of the population instead? How would the world have changed? This is a look at the history that could have been: a history that stretches across centuries, a history that sees dynasties and nations rise and crumble
...more
Aerin
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
Jack
May 08, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
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
Chadwick
Jul 14, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
Daniel Roy
May 03, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Jess
Aug 12, 2014 rated it liked it
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
Jeff
Aug 17, 2010 rated it did not like it
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
kaśyap
Dec 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing

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
Cpd
Jul 08, 2007 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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 rated it it was ok
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
Fantasy Literature
Jan 23, 2016 rated it it was amazing
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
Peter Tillman
Jan 27, 2016 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: KSR fans
The most impressive Robinson I've read since, since.... well, ever, I guess. This is AltHist played with the net up, and the writing and characterization are just about as good as it gets. The opening episode -- just after the point of deivergence, when the Black Death exterminated humanity in Europe -- is nightmarish, chilling.

I recommend The Years of Rice and Salt to your attention, with the caveat that it has the usual KSR strengths and weaknesses, and so will alternately thrill and annoy yo
...more
Steve
DNF @15%

That was plenty of time to realize that this book is not going to hold my interest. Disappointed, because the synopsis holds a huge amount of potential!
M.G. Mason
Aug 08, 2011 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
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
Jun 20, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 13, 2011 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Deanne
Jan 14, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fantasyandscifi
Some of the parts in the book were really great, engaging characters and exciting or interesting storylines. Some of the stories were too short, a few slightly too long and then there was the last. Did wonder where Robinson was going with this, even felt like he'd run out of steam and wasn't sure how to end it.
However over all I thought it was a good premise, but would have liked to have more on those venturing into Europe. What did they find?, feel?, see?.
Quirkyreader
May 02, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Take the time to read this one. It's a mindblower.
Luca Signorelli
Mar 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
KSM is by no mean the greatest writer alive, but this is by far his greatest work, and one of the best alternative history novels ever written, in particular the first and last "novelettes" (the books is divided in self contained sections chronologically ordered from 1362 to our days, with the same characters appearing again and again in different incarnation). The premise is intriguing - in 1348-1352 the Black Death doesn't "just" kills one third of the European population, but 99% of it. And t ...more
Rumell Khan RumellKINTJType1and5
I like the inclusion of a Muslim character
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3,315 followers
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
“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.” 51 likes
“The word of God came down to man as rain to soil, and the result was mud, not clear water. (Bistami) Pg. 128” 13 likes
More quotes…