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The Years of Rice and Salt (Anglais) Poche – 3 juin 2003

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Chapter 1

Another journey west, Bold and Psin find an empty land; Temur is displeased, and the chapter has a stormy end.

Monkey never dies. He keeps coming back to help us in times of trouble, just as he helped Tripitaka through the dangers of the first journey to the west, to bring Buddhism from India to China.

Now he had taken on the form of a small Mongol named Bold Bardash, horseman in the army of Temur the Lame. Son of a Tibetan salt trader and a Mongol innkeeper and spirit woman, and thus a traveler from before the day of his birth, up and down and back and forth, over mountains and rivers, across deserts and steppes, crisscrossing always the heartland of the world. At the time of our story he was already old: square face, bent nose, gray plaited hair, four chin whiskers for a beard. He knew this would be Temur's last campaign, and wondered if it would be his too.

One day scouting ahead of the army, a small group of them rode out of dark hills at dusk. Bold was getting skittish at the quiet. Of course it was not truly quiet, forests were always noisy compared to the steppe; there was a big river ahead, spilling its sounds through the wind in the trees; but something was missing. Birdsong perhaps, or some other sound Bold could not quite identify. The horses snickered as the men kneed them on. It did not help that the weather was changing, long mare's tails wisping orange in the highest part of the sky, wind gusting up, air damp--a storm rolling in from the west. Under the big sky of the steppe it would have been obvious. Here in the forested hills there was less sky to be seen, and the winds were fluky, but the signs were still there.

They ride by fields that lay rank with unharvested crops.

Barley fallen over itself,

Apple trees with apples dry in the branches,

Or black on the ground.

No cart tracks or hoofprints or footprints

In the dust of the road. Sun sets,

The gibbous moon misshapen overhead.

Owl dips over field. A sudden gust:

How big the world seems in a wind.

Horses are tense, Monkey too.

They came to an empty bridge and crossed it, hooves thwocking the planks. Now they came on some wooden buildings with thatched roofs. But no fires, no lantern light. They moved on. More buildings appeared through the trees, but still no people. The dark land was empty.

Psin urged them on, and more buildings stood on each side of the widening road. They followed a turn out of the hills onto a plain, and before them lay a black silent city. No lights, no voices; only the wind, rubbing branches together over sheeting surfaces of the big black flowing river. The city was empty.

Of course we are reborn many times. We fill our bodies like air in bubbles, and when the bubbles pop we puff away into the bardo, wandering until we are blown into some new life, somewhere back in the world. This knowledge had often been a comfort to Bold as he stumbled exhausted over battlefields in the aftermath, the ground littered with broken bodies like empty coats.

But it was different to come on a town where there had been no battle, and find everyone there already dead. Long dead; bodies dried; in the dusk and moonlight they could see the gleam of exposed bones, scattered by wolves and crows. Bold repeated the Heart Sutra to himself. "Form is emptiness, emptiness form. Gone, gone, gone beyond, gone altogether beyond. O, what an Awakening! All hail!"

The horses stalled on the outskirts of the town. Aside from the cluck and hiss of the river, all was still. The squinted eye of the moon gleamed on dressed stone, there in the middle of all the wooden buildings. A very big stone building, among smaller stone buildings.

Psin ordered them to put clothes over their faces, to avoid touching anything, to stay on their horses, and to keep the horses from touching anything but the ground with their hooves. Slowly they rode through narrow streets, walled by wooden buildings two or three stories high, leaning together as in Chinese cities. The horses were unhappy but did not refuse outright.

They came into a paved central square near the river, and stopped before the great stone building. It was huge. Many of the local people had come to it to die. Their lamasery, no doubt, but roofless, open to the sky--unfinished business. As if these people had only come to religion in their last days; but too late; the place was a boneyard. Gone, gone, gone beyond, gone altogether beyond. Nothing moved, and it occurred to Bold that the pass in the mountains they had ridden through had perhaps been the wrong one, the one to that other west which is the land of the dead. For an instant he remembered something, a brief glimpse of another life--a town much smaller than this one, a village wiped out by some great rush over their heads, sending them all to the bardo together. Hours in a room, waiting for death; this was why he so often felt he recognized the people he met. Their existences were a shared fate.

"Plague," Psin said. "Let's get out of here."

His eyes glinted as he looked at Bold, his face was hard; he looked like one of the stone officers in the imperial tombs.

Bold shuddered. "I wonder why they didn't leave," he said.

"Maybe there was nowhere to go."

Plague had struck in India a few years before. Mongols rarely caught it, only a baby now and then. Turks and Indians were more susceptible, and of course Temur had all kinds in his army, Persians, Turks, Mongols, Tibetans, Indians, Tajiks, Arabs, Georgians. Plague could kill them, any of them, or all of them. If that was truly what had felled these people. There was no way to be sure.

"Let's get back and tell them," Psin said.

The others nodded, pleased that it was Psin's decision. Temur had told them to scout the Magyar plain and what lay beyond, west for four days' ride. He didn't like it when scouting detachments returned without fulfilling orders, even if they were composed of his oldest qa'uchin. But Psin could face him.

Back through moonlight they rode, camping briefly when the horses got tired. On again at dawn, back through the broad gap in the mountains the earlier scouts had called the Moravian Gate. No smoke from any village or hut they passed. They kicked the horses to their fastest long trot, rode hard all that day.

As they came down the long eastern slope of the range back onto the steppe, an enormous wall of cloud reared up in the western half of the sky.

Like Kali's black blanket pulling over them,

The Goddess of Death chasing them out of her land.

Solid black underside fluted and rippled,

Black pigs' tails and fishhooks swirling into the air below.

A portent so bleak the horses bow their heads,

The men can no longer look at each other.

They approached Temur's great encampment, and the black stormcloud covered the rest of the day, causing a darkness like night. Hair rose on the back of Bold's neck. A few huge raindrops splashed down, and thunder rolled out of the west like giant iron cartwheels overhead. They hunkered down in their saddles and kicked the horses on, reluctant to return in such a storm, with such news. Temur would take it as a portent, just as they did. Temur often said that he owed all his success to an asura that visited him and gave him guidance. Bold had witnessed one of these visitations, had seen Temur engage in conversation with an invisible being, and afterward tell people what they were thinking and what would happen to them. A cloud this black could only be a sign. Evil in the west. Something bad had happened back there, something worse even than plague, maybe, and Temur's plan to conquer the Magyars and the Franks would have to be abandoned; he had been beaten to it by the goddess of skulls herself. It was hard to imagine him accepting any such preemption, but there they were, under a storm like none of them had ever seen, and all the Magyars were dead.

Smoke rose from the vast camp's cooking fires, looking like a great sacrifice, the smell familiar and yet distant, as if from a home they had already left forever. Psin looked at the men around him. "Camp here," he ordered. He thought things over. "Bold."

Bold felt the fear shoot through him.

"Come on."

Bold swallowed and nodded. He was not courageous, but he had the stoic manner of the qa'uchin, Temur's oldest warriors. Psin also would know that Bold was aware they had entered a different realm, that everything that happened from this point onward was freakish, something preordained and being lived through inexorably, a karma they could not escape.

Psin also was no doubt remembering a certain incident from their youth, when the two of them had been captured by a tribe of taiga hunters north of the Kama River. Together they had staged a very successful escape, knifing the hunters' headman and running through a bonfire into the night.

The two men rode by the outer sentries and through the camp to the khan's tent. To the west and north lightning bolts crazed the black air. Neither man had seen such a storm in all their lives. The few little hairs on Bold's forearms stood up like pig bristles, and he felt the air crackling with hungry ghosts, pretas crowding in to witness Temur emerge from his tent. He had killed so many.

The two men dismounted and stood there. Guards came out of the tent, drawing aside the flaps of the doorway and standing at attention, ready with drawn bows. Bold's throat was too dry to swallow, and it seemed to him a blue light glowed from within the great yurt of the khan.

Temur appeared high in the air, seated on the litter his carriers had already hefted on their shoulders. He was pale-faced and sweating, the whites of his eyes visible all the way around. He stared down at Psin.

"Why are you back?"

"Khan, a plague has struck the Magyars. They're all dead."

Temur regarded his unloved gen...

Revue de presse

PRAISE FOR The Years of Rice and Salt

"Hugo winner Robinson follows three characters over seven centuries on an alternate Earth in which Islam and Buddhism are the dominant religions...Blessed with moments of wry and gentle beauty as friends and antagonists rediscover each other under different guises in exotically dangerous locales."
-Kirkus Reviews


“A tremendous achievement.”
The Washington Post Book World

“An absorbing novel...a scientifically informed imagination of rare ambition at work.”
The New York Times Book Review

“Promises to become a classic...This is epic science fiction in the best sense of the term–thoughtful, provoking, and haunting.”
–St. Louis Post-Dispatch


“Dense as a diamond and as sharp; it makes even most good novels seem pale and insignificant by comparison.”
The Washington Post Book World

“Has the breathtaking scope, plausible science and intellectual daring that made Red Mars a hit.”
Daily News of Los Angeles


“If I had to choose one writer whose work will set the standard for science fiction in the future, it would be KIM STANLEY ROBINSON. Blue Mars represents a breakthrough even from his own consistently high level of achievement....Beautifully written...a landmark in the history of the genre.”
The New York Times Book Review

“A complex and deeply engaging dramatization of
humanity’s future...exhilarating.”
The Philadelphia Inquirer

From the Hardcover edition.

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Détails sur le produit

  • Poche: 784 pages
  • Editeur : Spectra; Édition : Reprint (3 juin 2003)
  • Langue : Anglais
  • ISBN-10: 0553580078
  • ISBN-13: 978-0553580075
  • Dimensions du produit: 10,7 x 3,4 x 17,5 cm
  • Moyenne des commentaires client : 3.0 étoiles sur 5  Voir tous les commentaires (1 commentaire client)
  • Classement des meilleures ventes d'Amazon: 85.266 en Livres anglais et étrangers (Voir les 100 premiers en Livres anglais et étrangers)
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2 internautes sur 3 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile  Par David Martin le 21 décembre 2010
Format: Poche
Kim Stanley Robinson propose dans "The Years of Rice and Salt" une uchronie dont le point de divergence est la virulence de l'épidémie de peste noire qui a ravagé l'Europe au XIVe siècle. Alors que la civilisation d'inspiration chrétienne est réduite à néant, l'humanité prospère en Asie et au Moyen Orient, sous l'impulsion de l'islam. En une dizaine de récits faussement indépendants, Robinson rapporte les expériences terrestres et cosmiques d'un groupe de personnages réincarnés à travers les siècles et qui se retrouvent régulièrement - à la fin de chacune de leurs nombreuses vies - dans le bardo bouddhiste. Prenant peu à peu conscience de leur état, ils tentent de lutter contre la fatalité et les dieux qui les renvoient sans cesse dans le monde après leur avoir fait oublier leurs expériences précédentes. Alors que ces histoires, en soit, ne font que se succéder chronologiquement, Robinson y transpose quelques personnalités récurrentes, identifiées par l'initiale de leur nom qui reste constante au travers des réincarnations.

Au fil du roman, l'auteur passe en revue les activités d'exploration de la Chine dans son monde alternatif, et l'évolution des esprits et de la science. La chronologie fournie en début d'ouvrage permet de constater que les événements significatifs de ces civilisations se déroulent dans un laps de temps semblable à celui que nous connaissons.
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113 internautes sur 126 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Has it's flaws but a good concept overall... 25 juillet 2002
Par Michael P. Clawson - Publié sur
Format: Relié
I really enjoyed this book. The concept (the Black Plague is 99% lethal and entirely wipes out Christian Europe in the 14th century) is very intriguing. Though the book spans 600 years of alternative history from the early 1400s till present day, the author ingeniously makes use of reincarnation as a device to maintain the same basic characters throughout the book ("B" the romanticist nurturer/protector, "K" the rebellious idealist, "I" the warm & inquisitive but detached intellectual, and "S" the self-centered troublemaking jerk.) The book details how China discovers the new world, how a Japanese Samuri teaches the Iroquois tribes to resist the Muslim and Chinese incursions into the New World, how the scientific revolution occurs in Samarkand, how a socially progressive industrial society develops in southern India, and how the entire 20th Century is spent in a massive World War between the Muslim and Chinese halves of the world. All of this is seen through the eyes of the characters, so it becomes a story of individuals caught up in the story of the world rather than just a historical outline.
The book does get a little preachy towards the end, with Robinson spouting off his theories of historiography. It was also a little confusing by the end when he seemed to be trying to undermine his own theory of reincarnation with the secularist/materialist dogma of his characters. I wasn't sure if Robinson was advancing his own views or just relating the views of his characters according to what would be consistent for them during that point in his history. I also thought Robinson failed to provide a compelling ending to his book. Throughout the book he constantly set up questions of whether progress and improvement is possible and whether the actions of the characters are bringing about any larger good, but the end left these questions still dangling with nothing but a flimsy academic lecture to state the author's opinion (in short, that progress is possible for society as a whole but that each individual life is a personal tragedy).
What I found particularly intriguing about this book however, was the harshness of ethnic conflict in a world lacking a genuine pluralistic, multicultural society (as America tries to be). Even by the 20th century conflicts were much more about racial competition between Muslims and Chinese than about socio-political ideologies as we experienced in our own world. There was also no model democratic society in this alternate world, nothing like the French and American revolutions ever happened, so even by the modern day most of the world's superpowers were ruled by monarchs or military governments. Upon reflection I found this account of probable world history to be very convincing and likely. If one is familiar with (real) European history one realizes how unique liberal democratic political philosophy is, and how dependent it is on certain key concepts found primarily in the Christian traditions.
Anyhow, I would highly recommend this book to anyone who likes history and has a basic starting knowledge of (actual) world history over the past 600 years. (This basic knowledge is really essential to really appreciate the subtle and sweeping changes that occur in this alternate universe.)
67 internautes sur 74 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
absorbing, haunting, yet shallow 3 avril 2002
Par Un client - Publié sur
Format: Relié Achat vérifié
I am a sucker for alternate histories -- be it (fairly) serious literature like Dick's "Man in the High Castle", silly stuff like Stephen Fry's "Making History" or potboilers like Vaterland. When I read the Salon review of "Years of Rice and Salt", I knew this was a book for me, and I was not too disappointed.
This is an extremely thoughtful, haunting and often poetic view of an alternate world in which the population of Europe was completely killed off by the plague in the 13th century. Europe develops as a culturally stagnant, technologically backward group of Islamic states, earliest in the shadow of more vibrant Islamic societies to the East, and later in the shadow of technologically advanced India and militarily united China. China colonizes most of the New World, with Islam grabbing the eastern regions of North America. The world that develops is familiar in two ways -- first, history overall follows reasonably predictable lines, and second, the particular cultures that survive the plague develop more or less as one would expect from their counterparts in the world we actually live in.
Robinson makes the inspired decision to tell a small-scale human story as well, using the device of reincarnation to allow variants of the same three or four characters (identifiable by their initials) to sort of span 700 years. It's very sweet to see the characters lead different lives, sometimes male, sometimes female, not always human -- always friends or lovers, always engaged in versions of the same struggles and conflicts. Eventually, we figure out that it's the weakest of the central characters that is the focus of the book.
The problem with the book is its ultimate shallowness. The characters are archetypes -- a figure of struggle (initial K), a figure of thought (initial I), a servant/follower (initial P) and a figure of human kindness and charity (initial B). We get to like them in part because of the thrill of the chase -- meeting and re-meeting them in different time periods and cultures. "Ah, there's K. I was wondering when he'd/she'd show up!" But if you ask yourself what's really interesting about the characters, besides the way in which they fit (or don't fit) into the different societies in which they live, you realize that you don't actually have an answer to that question. There's just not much to say about the characters in the end. And that's a shame. You almost get the sense that the author became bored with the characters, since apart from the poetical conclusion to the book, the later chapters (starting with the India section) have much less plot than the earlier chapters, and much more preachy, pseudo-scholarly accounts of the history, and of historical theory.
Do read the book. It's pretty good. But mourn for the fact that it could have been deeper and better.
36 internautes sur 39 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Robinson's World 14 avril 2002
Par Abu Amaal - Publié sur
Format: Relié
Kim Stanley Robinson has done it again. This is a beautifully conceived and written book, with charm,
humor, and considerable depth. The reviews, including the editorial review, give too much information
- it is best approached as a blank slate, and that includes not looking to closely at the material
on the dust jacket. Nonetheless, if you would like to know more:
Kim Stanley Robinson revisits the history of the last six hundred years, and rewrites it, fusing Tibetan
buddhism with a classic "what-if" scenario. For the sake of simplicity he does not allow his alternate
history to diverge too radically from our own, all the way up through World War I. There is however a
sentimental streak in Robinson, and he allows common sense just a little more scope at the end than has
actually prevailed in the modern world.
I did wonder, reading this, who the audience would be. Not everyone who was taken with the
Mars Trilogy or the Three Californias would necessarily want to swim in these depths.
Robinson does supply a detailed time-line on page 1, and the main calendar in use is the Islamic one,
beginning in our 622 A.D.
(Though it is a lunar calendar, simply adding 622 to the Islamic date gives a fair approximation to the
Christian calendar - and one can always consult the time-line on the first page.)
From this point on I'll allow myself some "spoiler" remarks, so if you want to read the book fresh, stop here.
The premise is that the European plague of 1347-1349 mutated and wiped out the bulk of Europe half
a century later. The history that follows on this is both political and
intellectual/scientific/technological, and the latter seems to drive the former. To take a specific
example: the Galilean discoveries obviously don't take place in Europe. Instead, they occur in Samarqand,
at about the same period. This is an interesting choice, and indicative of Robinson's method.
He refers to the observatory at Samarqand, founded by Ulugh Beg. This was in fact a major scientific
center; indeed, it was the birthplace back in the fourteenth century of the system of decimal fractions we all
use today. What this illustrates is that Robinson has in general taken small details of our
own history and transferred them intact to his parallel history, while transposing the main political and scientific events substantially.
Robinson has crafted his history very thoroughly. He is excellent on the relationship of Quran and hadith,
which has the same consequences in his world it has had in ours. Scientific terminology is reinvented -
since electricity is a Chinese discovery in his world, it has a Chinese name, rather than the "elektron"
of the Greeks. And so on.
The net result is that the reader will probably want to pay closer attention to the details than was
necessary in the case of the Mars Trilogy. But the story has a great deal of charm - notably the episodes
in the Tibetan after-life (oops: between-lives!). Tracking the individual characters through their
incarnations is a game I did not pay much attention to, but it's certainly one that the author invites
you to play, among others.
Kim Stanley Robinson has gone from chronicles of the near future in his California series, to the distant
future in Mars RBG, and now to our imaginary but well-remembered past. He's had a tendency in his writings
to have an unsatisfying and superficial view of history, along the lines of "It can't be known"
(Icehenge, some of the Mars episodes), and a highly romanticized view of human political relationships.
That sentimental streak is still present - particularly in the history of the New World - but his alternate
history is about as plausible as our own (which, admittedly, is not very plausible).
KSR does not want to be trapped in a genre, it seems. More power to him.
A must read for his fans, at least, as well as for history buffs.
42 internautes sur 49 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Great Idea, Weak Execution 4 janvier 2003
Par A. Ross - Publié sur
Format: Relié
There are few things more disappointing than a book with a great concept that fails to gel into an interesting story. Unfortunately, this is one of those books. And at 650+ pages, it's one of the more tedious doorstops I've ever forced myself to read all the way through. The great premise is that the Black Plague kills 99% of Europe, relegating it to historical oddity and leaving the rest of world for Chinese and Muslim empires to conquer. With that as the jumping off point, Robinson sets himself the ambitious task of recounting the next 700 years of history in ten chapters. To try and lend some structure to this sprawling construction, he uses three characters who continually experience reincarnation and are at the center of each chapter/story. One is ambitious and rebellious, one is sensitive and humane, and one is curious and intellectual. It's a nice idea, but never really works.
The problems are many. Foremost is just a general longwindedness on Robinson's part, with lengthy descriptions of landscapes, cities, dress, and custom that simply aren't that fascinating to read, and in any event, don't add much to the stories. Another big flaw, especially in the final hundred pages, is his distinct tendency to sermonize and sprout theories through his characters. There comes a point where one wonders if the whole book is just an author's trick at avoiding writing a serious work of nonfiction. Clearly Robinson has some strong ideas about history, religious and social movements, and Samuel Huntington's famous "clash of civilizations thesis", so why not [absorb it all]and write about reality instead of cloaking it in pseudo alternate history. And I say pseudo because despite the erasing of white folks from the story, Robinson's history runs parallel to reality. The same scientific discoveries are made at roughly the same rates, with cutesy alternate names (the Chinese qi = electricity, the Arabic alactin = uranium, etc.), colonization of the world by the great powers still occurs, there's a "Great War", complete with trench warfare, and hey, guess what? Africans and Australian Aboriginals are absent from the story except as slaves!
Another problematic aspect to the novel is that without a fairly decent knowledge of Bhuddism in all its flavors, Islam in all its flavors, the real life development of both up until the 14th century, and indeed, world history up until that point, one is unlikely to fully appreciate a lot of Robinson's arguments and themes. I don't know anything about Robinson, and have never read any of his work, but I'd be willing to bet he has some sort of PhD. in history or comparative religion, cause many many parts of the book read like transcriptions of bad grad school seminars in both fields. And one has to conclude that he willfully jettisoned some of what he knows in order to make his broader sermonizing work. For example, throughout the book, Tibetan Bhuddism and Sufi Islam (let's not even get into the very real argument over whether Sufism is Islam!) are much-praised throughout the stories. While he's perfectly happy to take on Islam's treatment of women, he ignores Tibetan Bhuddism's oppression of women. Similarly, he treats Sufism as a monolithic celebration of poetry, wine, and mysticism, failing to acknowledge the real breadth of Sufi sects, for example the Sufism practiced by Chechen freedom fighters, which is hardly all dancing and joy.
Ultimately, the book is an ambitious but greatly flawed mess, and simply isn't a good read.
11 internautes sur 11 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Huge, clever, fun, flawed 13 octobre 2003
Par N. Clarke - Publié sur
Format: Poche
Subject-wise, _The Years of Rice and Salt_ pushed all the right buttons for me - opening with a Journey to the West pastiche was always going to score it points, then there was a section set in Samarkand, quotations from Ibn Khaldun, and some deftly-drawn portraits of medieval China. I'm a sucker for a) cleverness, and b) well-crafted settings outside the pseudo-medieval fantasy norm, and this book hits both markers. So I wanted desperately to like it. In some ways, I did.
But there are two fundamental flaws, in my opinion. Firstly, the device of reincarnating the same set of characters fails; none of said characters are distinctive or memorable enough from life to life, and so end up being effectively 'new' in every section/time period. There's little chance for the reader to develop any emotional investment before the section ends and the whole thing starts again, and it becomes difficult to truly care.
Its second problem is, curiously, its lack of scope and vision. While the novel's stage is an entire world over six or so centuries, the device of keeping the characters together in each incarnation means that each section concentrates on one small area, robbing the narrative of the benefits of multiple, varied viewpoints. The scale is narrow rather than epic, and the action tends to get bogged down in details. This would be fine if the details were used to build character or illuminate the larger picture - the themes of this alternate, Europe-less world - but a lot of it reads like navel-gazing.
Many of the truly interesting implications are skipped over in favour of scientists ahead of their time discovering exactly the same things at almost exactly the same time their counterparts did in the non-fictional world, as if Robinson feels that certain universal boxes must be checked along the road to 'development', whatever the structure or imperatives of a society. (Meanwhile, literature, drama and art get short shrift). Often even the same words are used - I know little about the history of scientific thought, but would a world whose development was shaped by Arabs and Chinese still have used so many Greek and Latinate constructions to label their deeds? (okay, so he can get away with Greek, Islamic scholars were big on Greek. but still).
While there are glimpses of greater things - Buddhist attitudes and beliefs are used very well, and the different trajectory of American history is intriguing, but frustratingly underexplored - Robinson seems to be more interested in following a pretty conventional path. Perhaps dictated by his reincarnation device, he surrenders to the temptation to work towards a conclusion, as if human history could have ultimate purposes or goals. (I imagine one could argue that this reflects the world-view of those he writes about, but intentional or not it doesn't work!). Ultimately, this is too big a topic for one novel, and in trying to cover everything the author spreads himself too thinly, and ends up short-changing a fascinating world.
Despite these caveats, this remains a hugely enjoyable and memorable read, a rich tapestry of cultures and ideas rarely explored in genre fiction. Worth a look.
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