by Robert Charles Wilson
Tor, April 2005, ISBN 0-765-30938-6
A book review by Elisabeth Carey
The time is, if not right now, the reasonably near future. Tyler Dupree is the twelve-year-old son of the housekeeper for a major aerospace industrialist. His best friends are the industrialists' twin children, Diane and Jason Lawton. One evening, when the kids are illicitly outside during an adult party at the Big House, the stars and the moon disappear. All satellite communication, and everything dependent on it, is lost. The sun rises in the morningbut, as scientists subsequently learn, it's not the real sun. Earth has been encased in a membrane, and time on Earth has been dramatically slowed: a minute on Earth, inside the membrane, is a century or more outside. One of the things the membrane is doing is filtering and regulating the sunlight, so Earth continues to experience normal day and night, and seasons.
This phenomenon quickly acquires the popular name "the Spin." The Lawtons' father, E.D., quickly capitalizes on one piece of the disruption caused by it by promoting aerostats as a replacement for the lost satellites. And he grooms his genius son Jason to become the world's greatest expert on the Spin.
The cultural effects of the Spin are more disruptive, at least in the short term. As it becomes clear that the Spin is not any sort of natural phenomenon, there are only two ways of explaining it: either it's a technological phenomenon created by unknown alien beings (the "Hypotheticals"), or it represents the direct action of God. As it becomes clear that the slowing of time on Earth will result in Earth being out of the habitable zone of the sun in fifty or sixty years, the notion that Earth's inhabitants are now living in the End Times becomes obvious and logical. While E.D. continues to do what he has always done (wheel, deal, seize economic and political advantage, emotionally abuse his family) Jason becomes obsessed with understanding the Spin scientifically, Diane joins an ecstatic, hedonistic religious cult called the New Kingdom, and Tyler just tries to get on with his life, going to medical school and becoming a doctor. That's not so easy; Tyler has always been the emotional stabilizer for the more volatile Lawton twins, and they both keep calling on him to fill that role. While Diane moves through the world of End Times religious cults, Jason uses his father's business and political ambitions to build a government agency dedicated to understanding the Spin and, once the Spin membrane is found to be permeable to spacecraft in both directions (but not to signals of any kind), to terraforming Mars to preserve the human race. This works fairly well, until two things happen: it becomes clear to the public that success with the Mars project is not going to save the lives of more than trivial numbers of people on Earth, and the Spin membrane starts flickering, an apparent prelude to breaking down entirely as aging Sol, now reaching the end of its life, expands.
This is a beautifully written, completely engrossing book. I've occasionally complained that Wilson's books don't have entirely satisfactory endings; this one does. Highly recommended.