Book Review: The Affinities

The Affinities by Robert Charles Wilson

In our rapidly changing world of social media, everyday people are more and more able to sort themselves into social groups based on finer and finer criteria. In the near future of Robert Charles Wilson's The Affinities, this process is supercharged by new analytic technologies: genetic, brain-mapping, behavioral. To join one of the twenty-two Affinities is to change one's life. It's like family, and more than family. Your fellow members aren't just like you, and they aren't just people who are likely to like you. They're also the people with whom you can best cooperate in all areas of life, creative, interpersonal, even financial.

At loose ends both professional and personal, young Adam Fisk takes the suite of tests to see whether he qualifies for any of the Affinities and finds that he's a match for one of the largest, the one called Tau. It's utopian--at first. His problems resolve themselves as he becomes part of a global network of people dedicated to helping one another, to helping him, but as the differing Affinities put their new powers to the test, they begin to rapidly chip away at the power of governments, of global corporations, and of all the institutions of the old world; then, with dreadful inevitability, the different Affinities begin to go to war with one another.


Last year I read some really provocative Science Fiction books, genre bending and breaking ones. When I was presented with the synopsis of The Affinities it was one of those books that really gives a promise of something more, something unseen heretofore. Robert Charles Wilson as written numerous other books, one of which, Spin was nominated for a Hugo award back in 2006, and which won it for the Best Book. So with such a background in the back of my mind, and with the interesting promise of the synopsis I knew this book was for me. I have to say that I was expecting something differently with the story, but the story that Robert Charles Wilson delivered was nonetheless very interesting.

The story picks up with the focus on Adam Fisk who is about to do a test that will change his life forever. He is about to take a test, at the cost of his own money, that will reveal if he is fit to become be placed in one of the Affinities. Affinities are groups of special people. Now you might ask what is so special about these groups? People that are in an Affinity are able to commune with each other on different levels than speak. There are in total twenty-two different Affinity groups and you can best view them as something in the lines of a strong communal group, somewhat like your college fraternity and very close family. Anyway after the test, Adam is placed into one of the biggest Affinity groups, the Tau's. Adam really has to adjust to what is takes to be a Tau, but he soon sees that there are a lot of advantages. After this introduction and the inauguration of Adam into the Tau Affinity the story skips a few years, and within these few years a lot of things have changed. A war in on the horizon, and not the war you might be expecting between non-Affinity members and Affinity members but inbetween different Affinities. Another big Affinity and rival of the Tau Affinity, the Hets, is waging war and trying to get rid of the other Affinities. And when the stakes are high, the war ain't pretty... Adam is right in the middle of it all, and finds himself under a lot of pressure. As, perhaps might have been expected, the ending was heart ripping to be honest. HOwever just one minor remark, unfortunately we only see the fight and struggles between the Het and the Tau, the other twenty Affinities aren't discussed, this did narrow the promise of the story a bit, perhaps we will see a sequel in which more is explained.

If you look the characters of The Affinities, the focus is really for the most part on Adam Fisk and in how a unhappy situation he is in the beginning of the book and how he transitions from a lonely person to a person who feels whole again, though the focus on this transition is only in the early pages of the book, it was for me a very nice development to see. Robert Charles Wilson captures a truly human emotion with it. As for the other characters, there are plenty of minor ones that you follow from both the Tau Affinity and the other Affinities and even a view here and there from the original founders of the Affinities. If I look at the overall of the character, they did feel a bit to have fallen in the background of the story, with so many things working in the story itself, the focus even when Adam felt as if it wasn't fully in sync with each other. I don't want to call the characters bland, but for me with a little dot on the i I think they could have been much stronger throughout the story. 

As I mentioned above I am always on the look out for the Science Fiction stories that bend and break the genre and I do have to admit that the themes that Robert Charles Wilson tackles in the Affinities are very, very cool. We are currently experiencing a technology exponential face, more and more technological advances are becoming available take virtual reality and google glass these could be the entry into many other possibilities. Now the idea behind the Affinities is something natural and technological advancement but with a few thoughts outside the box... who knows. It is for me a very interesting idea to think about in more depth. 

The lay out of the story itself is nicely done, Robert Charles Wilson really knows how to ramp up tension and build the story. From the inauguration of Adam down to the final war between the Het and Tau. The story escalates in a controlled way, the writing style is clear and to the point which allows the reader to easily settle within the story. With the escalation comes a gentle build up the pacing and even though you might not know it the pages will be reading away much easier. 

In the end, The Affinities is a book that will give you a different view on social behaviour, the big idea that Robert Charles Wilson introduces with the different Affinity groups is really interesting and is implemented solidly in the story (despite the fact only the Tau and the Het Affinities are shown). Robert Charles Wilson brings together different elements like: science and human social behaviour and a lot of emotions. Like I said the ending of the book was for me really powerful. What happened to Adam, wow, you know it might have been something that I could have expected, it produced that choke in the back of my throat... Gripping. If you are looking for a cool Science Fiction book, The Affinities, should be on your list. 

Comments

  1. Cool. Good to hear. I had a surprise copy arrive in the mail last week, so I'll definitely keep it near the top of the TBR pile.

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  2. It is an interesting story, turned out differently than what I had imagined but still solid. I like those social aspects mixed with science fiction.

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