Prophesy. Consensus. Eutrophication. Message in a Bottle. Forgiveness. Agency. Sum of All Parts.
Vortex is the third and final book in Robert Charles Wilson’s Spin Sequence. (Spin and Axis were the first two books.) Not only is Vortex a good book in its own right, but it is also a worthy conclusion to the series. Wilson takes reader from the everyday to the epic. He finally reveals the truth about the Hypotheticals and the ultimate fate of the Earth. Wilson expertly weaves storylines together and sculptures chapters that continually made me eager to know more. And, most important to me, he includes some fresh, ponderable ideas.
Briefly, Vortex has two major storylines that intertwine at times. The first storyline involves Sandra Cole, Orrin Mather, and Jefferson Bose. It takes place in the near future, in the post-Spin era. Sandra is a psychiatrist responsible for intake evaluations at State Care. Bose is a police officer who brings in Orrin, a fragile vagrant. Sandra soon learns this is far from a routine case, and her involvement changes her life forever. Orrin, it turns out, is a witness to corruption that involves some powerful people. Most important to the story is the set of notebooks he protects and in which he writes words that he doesn’t understand. Sandra and Bose do everything they can to protect him.
The second storyline involves Turk Finley, Isaac, and Treya/Allison Pearl. It takes place approximately 10,000 years after the first storyline. At the end of Axis, Turk and Isaac were pulled into a temporal arch that was created by the Hypotheticals. On schedule, 10,000 years later, they are disgorged. They are rescued by the people of Vox, a type of cult that was built around deifying the Hypotheticals and a prophecy that involves the return of the “uptaken.” Treya is a Vox woman put in charge of Turk. Like all Vox people, she has a cortical implant that connects her with the Vox Network. Early in her life, in preparation for helping Turk, she was also given virtual memories of Allison Pearl, a woman who lived shortly after the end of the Spin. Isaac sustained major injuries when emerging from the Temporal Arch, and the people of Vox rebuilt much of his body and mind. They also irreversibly connected him to the Vox Core, leaving him even less human than he was in Axis. In an effort to fulfill the prophecy, the Vox people return to Earth, which has become uninhabitable due to a poisonous atmosphere. Nevertheless, the Vox travel to Antarctica, where they plan to be united with the Hypotheticals. Turk and Treya/Allison attempt to escape before the journey reaches its likely fatal conclusion. By the end of the story, Isaac, a passive victim for much of Axis and Vortex, finally comes into his own power.
Wilson gave me some ideas to think about. One of the most interesting related to “cortical” versus “limbic” democracies. In the future world, people are linked together, but some groups are linked via intellect, and some groups are linked via emotions. Conversely, Wilson made me think about how people are often shaped by the tragedies they live through. Most of the major characters were strongly molded by incidents in their pasts. Ethics again plays a part in the story. One group in the near future world uses the illegal Martian longevity drug with ethical constraints, insisting that its use uphold a moral code. At the same time, another group has stripped the drug of its ability to make people behave more benevolently.
When I finished the book, I kept on muttering “wow.” Wilson did such a wonderful job of bringing the storylines around in the final pages. Vortex has so many strengths that I hope the major science fiction awards will give it some consideration next year.