The Affinities by Robert Charles Wilson (book review).

The idea behind dating apps meshes with social media to create compatible social groupings known as Affinities in Robert Charles Wilson’s near-future novel that initially seems to be heading towards a utopian tale of co-operation and acceptance, but soon turns into a wonderfully complex tale of social revolution.

Adam Fisk’s life is fairly humdrum, with a selection of the usual family and money issues. He decides to take the compatibility tests and is accepted into Tau, one of the largest Affinities. At first, he finds friendship and acceptance among like-minded individuals but, as this develops into mutually advantageous co-operation, he starts to face criticism from his family and the group as a whole faces backlash from society at large who resent the exclusive nature of the Affinities.

This uneasy relationship between those who have been accepted into an Affinity, particularly Adam’s own Tau Affinity and those who feel excluded grows and develops throughout the novel and provides a compelling backdrop to the tale.

Even for Adam, immersed as he is in his new life as part of a local Tau group known as a tranche, working for a Tau-only company and benefitting from the wider Tau fraternity’s philosophy of looking after their own, there is still an uncomfortable dissociation from his former life. Never close to most of his family, he now finds his relationship with them or with any other non-Tau frowned upon by his Tau tranche mates. He battles with these opposing loyalties which are starting to also cause divisions in society as a whole.

Similar to his award-winning novel, ‘Spin’, Robert Charles Wilson portrays a wonderfully human character suffering and experience realistic emotions and responses to increasingly strange circumstances. Unlike the high-concept science fictional notions in ‘Spin’, ‘The Affinities’ is more about social Science Fiction. The technology and science that make the Affinities possible are not that far-fetched, yet their effects on mankind are far-reaching indeed. Again, as in ‘Spin’, we also come to understand the reactions of various other groups and see the changing tides of society’s opinions and their backlash against seemingly unstoppable forces.

Interestingly, several of the main characters could also have been transposed from that novel: the strict and traditional political father, the older brother who follows in his footsteps, the younger, more uncertain brother, the childhood sweetheart and the alcoholic mother, though all in slightly different configurations. They are all realistically portrayed and the relationships between them are often touching and poignant.

Robert Charles Wilson is also not afraid to let the plot move on, away from a linear development of one concept. Again, in this book, the plot spans a number of years and we see the concept of the Affinities change and develop, with society in general slowly morphing in its wake. This was a thoroughly satisfying read and a fascinating look into the possibilities of social dynamics.

Gareth D Jones

April 2018

(pub: TOR/Forge. 300 page small hardback. Price: $25.99 (US), $29.99 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-7653-3262-2)

check out website: www.tor-forge.com

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