Thursday, December 5, 2019

Book Reviews Reloaded: The Affinities

This article first appeared on East Niagara Post on December 8, 2015. It is repeated here as I work to put all my book reviews in one place. They will be posted on Thursdays or Fridays and only be altered from the original in that I will add publisher information and pages. Hopefully, by revisiting these reviews, other people might find a book they'd like to pick up for their own enjoyment.

The Affinities - Robert Charles Wilson
Tor Books
304 Pages

Social media, such as Twitter and Facebook, have taken control of our lives. We revolve every waking moment around inane examples of TMI. I’m even guilty of it, constantly checking to see if anything is going on in the world that needs my opinion. Despite the moniker “social media,” these sites actually seem to be having the opposite effect on us. We are far less likely to actually socialize with our peers, instead posting for vanity and waiting for faceless accolades from people we rarely interact with, if ever.

So, what happens when we extrapolate from our current status (pun intended) into the future of social media and human interaction? The Affinities by Robert Charles Wilson takes that next bold step and sets the stage for the next evolution for making and keeping friends.

In the near future, our Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram accounts are traded in for a testing for your affinities. With brain scans, behavioral studies, and studying genetics, one can find a group of people who fit your personality the best. Each of the Affinities forms a tribe within the society. This tribe is your family. You will interact only with that tribe and distance yourself from the other tribes. To not be tested for an affinity is even worse than being in an opposing one.

Adam Fisk reluctantly decides to take the test to determine which of the groups he best fits in with. When the results finally comes back, he discovers that he fits in with the largest group, the Tau’s.  He is immediately accepted into their inner sanctum. They will protect him as needed, and he will be there to support others in his tribe. Meanwhile, he is distanced from family and friends who have been corralled into other Affinities. 

The unforeseen consequences of alienating groups of people from one another by means of the Affinities, is that each group suddenly clamors for power over the other groups. This is especially true of the Tau’s as they are the largest of the groups. Civilization spirals wickedly into a civil war, both socially and technologically. 

I have been a long-time reader of Robert Charles Wilson. His science-fiction writing often attempts to show the human side of our future. There is less overwhelming technology and more the reaction by people to those changing technologies.

In The Affinities, Wilson creates a character that is meant to be symbolic of all of us. Fittingly, his name is Adam. Unfortunately, Adam is less developed than other characters he has written in other books. Adam here seems to be less a character and more a vessel to unveil Wilson’s perception on the future of our race. The test itself and the resultant separation into various sects seems to hold sway as the main character instead.

Robert Charles Wilson delivers a novel that describes the dangers of relying on too much technology for our interaction with other people. We tend to isolate ourselves and look on others with disdain when disagreements arise. With a complete failing of true socialization and a loss of civil discourse, the future looks in Wilson’s world to be ready to implode on these shortcomings.  Readers will continue to turn the pages in this book even with the outcome apparent long before the final chapter. This is the least bleak of a dystopian novel. Wilson leaves us with that small chance of redemption before annihilation. It’s all we can ask for in fiction as well as in reality. 

Craig Bacon wants to know if we can be friends -- real friends, not just numbers in Facebook friends or retweets on Twitter.