& Review: The Affinities by Robert Charles Wilson

The Affinities by Robert Charles Wilson. Fiction. Publisher: Tor Books.

The Affinities by Robert Charles Wilson. Fiction. Publisher: Tor Books.

The Book Itself: Wait, what is the title of this book? There’s really no doubt of it here. But it is graphic and catchy, so I guess I shouldn’t make fun of it so much…

My Review: 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.

This book should have the sub-title: Social Media Gone Wild!

Not really, but that is essentially the concept here.

Social media has taken personality quizzes way too far in this dystopian tale. Once you take an assessment, it categorizes you as one of over twenty different affinities. You then have the option of attending meetings and even living with other people in that Affinity.

So of course the whole thing turns into a kind of class warfare. Because of course not everybody fits neatly and nicely into an affinity label. And the world Robert Charles Wilson sets his novel in is already fraying at the edges: Adam Fisk, our protagonist, witnesses a rather violent rally a few pages into the narrative.

Adam is your typical Aimless Youth before he joins an Affinity. His bond with his new fellow Taus quickly becomes all-consuming, until he’s drunk the proverbial Kool-Aid, so to speak, and believes Affinities should become more than just a social club to make new friends. Perhaps they should also take some political charge in the world at large.

The timeline gets a little jumpy. We go from Adam’s first meet-and-greet with the local Tau chapter to three years later, en route to a mysterious meeting. I would think the first year or two would be crucial! It’s Adam’s first foray into these huge new organizations, and the story just skips over it. It jumps, then info dumps to get you semi-caught up. It’s a book that I wish dwelled more on the details of its central conceit, instead of rushing past and glossing over some of the nitty gritty plot pieces that I feel would really flesh out the story and characters.

To start off with, what are the affinities? You get a broad brushstrokes overview of them: there are 22 of them and about 4 are considered “major” Affinities. But what makes them different? What on the assessment files people away into these all-consuming clubs? What made it worse for me is that you only get generalities of a couple of Affinities. Het, the Taus mortal enemies, are brutes, with personalities prone to violence. What makes a Tau a Tau? They smoke more marijuana than most. This point is brought up more than a few times, and as far as I can tell, that’s what sets the Taus apart. It’s not enough. For a story so focused on the tight-knit nature of these newly formed groups, I don’t ever truly understand what the groups are based on. This irked me the entire book.

Overall, it’s supposed to be a social science fiction book. That’s what the synopsis reads like to me. And I loved the idea. It took very little time between reading the book jacket on the hardcover in the store and deciding to buy it, full price. But what the book actually is is a political, broad picture image of a good but poorly executed concept. I read this book in about two days…but it was more because I was waiting for the book to dwell, to get to the good stuff. Not my cup of tea.

My Grade: C-

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