Wilson Tucker's
The Year of the Quiet Sun

Year of the Quiet Sun is notable as the novel which won the first place Campbell Award in 1976. While not as well known as the Hugo or Nebula, the Campbell award is quite prestigious, and is chosen by a jury based on literary excellence, not just popularity.

Despite its award, Year of the Quiet Sun is not very well known. It is interesting and well-written, but it's particular plot hasn't aged well, and it contains things which may seem anachronistic or politically incorrect. A major thematic element is race, especially the divide between blacks and whites in America. When Tucker wrote this book, he projected the difficulties of his turbulent time into the future and predicted things would get worse. He describes race riots in Chicago of the late 1990s which result in the black parts of the city being barricaded and completely segregated racially. Black militants and white U.S. soldiers prevent either side from crossing over.

The picture portrayed of black militants, and their violent hatred of whites, is particularly ugly. This is in no way a racist book, but it confronts these issues head on and is certainly politically incorrect by today's standards.

Dating it perhaps past the point of continued popularity is the fact that the book is about time travel, but the time travelers only journey about twenty years into the future. Thus, they visit a time which is already past. The world war instigated by a Chinese-Indian-Arab alliance and the subsequent collapse of the United States has, of course, not happened, but one can still read this as alternative history.

The out-of-date events didn't really bother me, although the idea of time travelers from the 1970s boldly going forward to the year 2000 did strike me as amusing.

The main character is a civilian scholar and renowned demographer who has published a controversial book about the origins of the Bible's Book of Revelations. This creates some tension between him and the two military men who work with him on the government's time travel reconnaissance project.

The book contains a rather unusual time machine (it must be plugged into an electrical source), some military action, speculation about the near future (now past), a compelling romance, and lots of interesting discussion about society and world politics.

While I'm glad I read Year of the Quiet Sun and consider a worthwhile work of science fiction, this is not a book I would strongly recommend as a "must read." It may appeal to some readers for historical reasons or because of its specific topics. This is a very well-written book, which continually presents unexpected but logical surprises. Its time travel plot is very original, with twists and developments I haven't seen elsewhere. Nevertheless, there are many books available which are more important classics or simply more enjoyable for contemporary readers.

Who should read this: Readers interested in 1970s science fiction, Wilson Tucker, fiction set in Chicago, fiction with modernist Biblical commentary, black-white racial issues, or unusual time travel stories
Rated: PG-13
Rating: ***

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Web page created 23 August 2000. Last modified 23 August 2000.