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Even before I knew what the plot was going to be, I was sucked into this book by the voice of its narrator, Lt. James Shelley. Soon, I was immersed in the realistic details that created a near-future world I could believe in, even though my initial ideas of where the plot was going were all wrong. If you don't normally read military SF, don't worry. The author gives you exactly as much information as you need to enjoy the plot. For instance, the jargon that Shelley uses is clear and evocative of the kind of world he lives in, a world that's only a few steps beyond ours. In his world, power is shifting from governments to massive corporations that have grown from defense contracting companies. In our world, governments declare war. In his, DCs - Defense Contractors - arrange wars among themselves, for profit. Meanwhile, soldiers occupy a similar status to today's world, somewhat at the mercy of wars they don't control. The book starts small. Lt. Shelley and his unit - a shorthanded unit - have just received a new sergeant and are running repetitive patrols in the African desert. Shelley gives us all sorts of mundane but specific details about his duties and how he feels about them. Because of that, he swiftly became a character I cared about, so when the plot twisted and he was suddenly in a lot more danger, I was breathless with worry for him. When people he loved came into the story, I found myself worrying for them too. The story expands quickly and exponentially, shifting from small-scale military SF to political thriller meshed with science fictional extrapolation. Plus, it's filled with engaging characters. Shelley's voice ties it all together and kept me turning pages until far past my bedtime. I'm already recommending this book to my friends, and I can't wait for the sequel.
As the early apocalyptic novels of the sixties and seventies were born from the advent of the nuclear age, The Affinities is a cautionary tale rooted in America's latest potentially catastrophic technological advancement. This time, rather than the development of the Atom bomb, Wilson's story considers the issues raised by our ever-growing obsession with social media and online dating. Best described as Brave New World meets social media, The Affinities is a thought-provoking piece of social science fiction that explores the dark side of an apparent utopian ideal. Its fast-paced, engaging story raises intellectually intriguing questions about the effects of social media and algorithm-driven computing on politics and interpersonal relationships. However, unlike most science fiction, The Affinities eschews broad global and interstellar narratives to focus on its protagonist's own personal relationships. As such, it is a far more intimate affair than most genre fiction. The science fiction elements of the story all occur in the background as the story unfolds through its characters' reactions to events ignited by those elements. The plausible future imagined in The Affinities will resonate with fans of more cerebral science fiction, such as the novels of Dan Brown and Cory Doctorow, as well as fans of high concept contemporary novels, such as those of Steven Gould and Robert J. Sawyer. Its strength lies in its value as a thought exercise. The Affinities would also serve very nicely as an introduction to genre fiction for fans of accessible literary fiction, such as Catch-22 and Lord of the Flies, looking to transition to science fiction but put off by those elements of hard science fiction that so often stigmatize the genre - such as clichéd plot devices, flat characters, kitschy dialog, and magical technology - all of which Wilson assiduously avoids. Finally, fans of Robert Charles Wilson's previous work will love this novel. Unlike so many other authors who fall into the trap of familiar patterns, Wilson has earned a reputation as an author who never writes the same book twice. But all of the hallmarks of Wilson's work are present: the light, well-crafted prose, the keen understanding of human nature, and the proclivity for turning tired old tropes on their head. Whatever your reason for picking up The Affinities, one thing's certain. You'll never look at your Facebook fans in quite the same way again.