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The Years of Rice and Salt

3.73  ·  Rating details ·  11,108 ratings  ·  1,232 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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George The sequence, in a sidenote of section 2, "The Remembering", of 'Book 6: Widow Kang", is:

"all the life stages": milk-teeth, hair-pinned-up, marriage, …more
The sequence, in a sidenote of section 2, "The Remembering", of 'Book 6: Widow Kang", is:

"all the life stages": milk-teeth, hair-pinned-up, marriage, children, rice and salt, widowhood.

It is in fact a Chinese expression. Susan Mann, Precious Records: Women in China's Long Eighteenth Century (Stanford; 1997), p. 65, https://books.google.com/books?id=T--..., explains, "The tumultuous years of regular sexual relations, child-bearing, and child-rearing are glossed benignly in women's writings as the years of 'rice and salt'."

And Mann p. 67 confirms the proper attitude of wei wang ren, a 'person who has not yet died.'(less)
George I think your best answer is "quite possibly". I don't believe his religious views are deducible from the story, and for certain they're irrelevant to …moreI think your best answer is "quite possibly". I don't believe his religious views are deducible from the story, and for certain they're irrelevant to it.(less)

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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 a
...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
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 s
...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
Kara 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
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
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
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
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
Denise
Feb 13, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2019
Sometimes a 5 star sometimes 3 or maybe less. So many intriguing ideas that bounce around with a sorta kinda plot.
Ann-Marie
This rating is for the audio book.

This is another of those books I tried to read two or three times previously and never could do it despite knowing I would like it once I got involved in it. I would read a bit, then my mind would take off on its own little jaunt, and, well - look! A squirrel!
Sometimes a book is meant to be read out loud to me while I knit..

"The Years Of Rice and Salt" posits a world where Christianity is for all intents wiped out by the plague, leaving Europe nearly uninhabit
...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 long
...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
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
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.
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!
Kavita
May 18, 2020 rated it did not like it
Shelves: not-finished
While the premise is interesting, I was unable to read beyond the first two chapters. I found the whole thing bland. A single character running around for two whole chapters without any kind of character building along with the clipped writing style ensured that I dumped this book right at the start. Onwards and upwards now!
Radiantflux
Feb 23, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science-fiction
23rd book for 2020.

An immensely enjoyable, if a bit too long, alternative history of the World, told as if European civilisation had been destroyed by the plague and the World had continued under the two poles of Islamic and Chinese civilisations. As always with KSR novels character development is paper thin, but ideas keep the narrative rolling forward at a good pace. My biggest regret is that KSR's future history develops along very similar trajectories to our own, which ultimately feels a lit
...more
MG 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
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
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
Quirkyreader
May 02, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Take the time to read this one. It's a mindblower.
Peter Martuneac
Mar 13, 2020 rated it it was ok
Did not finish this one. Giving it two stars because it's an impressive feat and an imaginative retelling of history, but the story itself is dry, which makes the title fitting, and boring as all hell. I tapped out in the 4th section when it became little more than a log of scientific experiments (making three guys responsible for basically all mathematic and scientific advancement of the 12th-16th centuries).

Maybe you'll like it, but I certainly did not.
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4,264 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

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