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The Affinities
by Robert Charles Wilson
Tor, $29.99, 300pp
Published : April 2015

Robert Charles Wilson has 12 other novels listed on the fly page, including the Hugo Award-winning Spin.  He is, quite rightly, one of the most celebrated names in modern SF. He crafts a tight, multi-layered, entertaining and seductive story, full of lights and shadows, precipices figurative and occasionally literal, and human protagonists so natural that you feel you know them as well as you know your family. I was completely caught up by this book and could not put it down, except for moments to savor what I had just read.

Social media, neuro-science, psychology, corporate-mindedness and a genius innovator have generated a system of matching people up, not romantically, but socially, into subsets called Affinities. If you test into an Affinity and join a local tranche, everything becomes easier. People who share an affinity understand each other and get along without the confusions and frustrations that plague most relationships at home, in the workplace, at parties or in the bedroom.

Adam Fisk’s life is in the crapper when he decides, as a last resort, to get tested – a time-consuming and expensive undertaking, but he hasn’t much to lose; besides, Interalia, the most successful social network since Facebook, has a ‘satisfaction guaranteed or your money back’ policy. Somewhat to his surprise, he tests into an Affinity, and not just any Affinity: he’s a Tau, one of the largest of the 22 recognized Affinities, and the most socially-minded.

 Adam, somewhat reluctantly, joins a tranche and discovers that his fellow Taus are friendly, easy-going, welcoming, and natural sharers. In less time that he would have deemed credible, his life is transformed, and when a charismatic fellow Tau with a ‘happy talent’ for coordinating human resources comes up with a utopian Big Plan, Adam becomes one of the sodality’s organizers. His own special skill seems to lie with interfacing with members of other Affinities. 

But Taus aren’t the only group with a Plan for how things could be and should be. The Het sodalities begin to make a play for nothing short of world domination, and not by friendly persuasion. There are lines no Tau would cross, things no Tau could do and remain a Tau, that are business-as-usual for Hets.

Is there any alternative to the zero-sum game that is spinning out of control between the Taus and the Hets? If you take a “the ends justify the means” attitude, what do you become?

This brilliant novel is everything that science fiction should be and is at its very best. ~~  Chris R. Paige

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