Spin by Robert Charles Wilson is a modern day science fiction mystery of sorts. One night, the stars disappear. Twin brother and sister, Jason and Diane Lawton, and friend Tyler Dupree witness the phenomenon from outside the Lawton family household. While their initial claims go unheeded, over the next and subsequent nights the world comes to recognize that powerful forces have moved against them, but for completely unknown reasons.
That is the thread Wilson weaves throughout most of Spin: we know what has happened (on a superficial level, anyway), we just have no idea why or who’s responsible. Tyler Dupree is our narrator; much of the mystery unravels from his perspective. Wilson does a fair amount of jumping around from one time to another, so while we start with Tyler, Diane, and Jason’s childhood, the reader is quickly launched forward to an unspecified time where, as adults, Tyler and Diane are in hiding and on the run. Other jumps are made, always with the intent of revealing information and moving the story forward.
Wilson does a nice job here, revealing just enough through various plot devices to keep the reader interested. The overlying mystery is perplexing enough, but once some headway is made into what exactly has happened, Wilson keeps us hooked with the attempted solutions.
Jason Lawton and his father, E.D. Lawton, are at the forefront of these solutions. The Lawton family was already well-to-do and influential, but when satellites are suddenly rendered inert by the “Spin membrane” (membrane because while the stars are blotted out, sunlight is allowed through during the day), as it is come to be known, the Lawton’s aerostat business takes off. Soon they’ve formed their own agency to work alongside NASA in their investigation of the Spin membrane. Eventually, with Jason at the head of this new agency, they’re running the show.
They launch probes, study data, and do what scientists do best, eventually discovering many things about the membrane. I won’t go into any of that here, though, since much of Spin’s attraction is finding these things out as you read along.
I found Jason to be the strongest of the characters in terms of having a sense of purpose. He’s really the one who pushes to discover what has happened and why, and I wondered at different times what this overachiever might have done with his life if not for the destiny laid down for him by the appearance of the Spin membrane.
While Tyler tells the story, it is only because of his close association with Jason that he (and thus the reader) learns what's really going on. In many ways, Tyler is a flat character. He spends much of his life watching the actions of others, on the periphery without ever really getting involved. While this may make for a good narrator, I was often more intrigued by Jason and his sister, Diane.
As for Diane, I thought she possessed a lot of potential that was left unexplored. She disappears for large chunks of the story as she becomes involved with one of the many doomsday cults that spring up following the disappearance of the stars. There's not much religion or fanaticism in the novel per se, though given that the Spin membrane winds up threatening the future of humanity it's understandable that such things creep into the story.