Last night I finished Kim Stanley Robinson’s The Years of Rice and Salt [ Powell's | Barnes and Noble ]. Interesting book for a number of reasons, but also one of the most misleading matches of jacket copy and internal narrative I’ve seen in a while.
The online squibs and jacket copy market Robinson’s book as alternate history, which it certainly is. But that misses the overarching theme and content of the book completely. This is, for want of a better phrasing, Buddhist science fiction. That it’s playing out over an alternate history story arc is close to incidental to what I perceive the book to be doing. There’s a lot of philosophy embedded here, a lot of lengthy infodumping, even some metafiction, all presented wrapped in very deliberative storytelling about transmigration of souls and spiritual ascendancy that falls well outside the usual action-militaria focus of alternate history.
That isn’t a criticism. I enjoyed the book a lot. But it made for strange reading, because my expectations as set by the marketing were so mismatched to the internal reality of the book. I realize that “Alternate History” is a much better marketing tag than “Buddhist SF”, and why Spectra ran with it, but still, it seemed odd.
How important is that external marketing to you? We do, after all, judge books by their covers.