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Burning Paradise by Robert Charles Wilson
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Burning Paradise

by Robert Charles Wilson

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Robert Charles Wilson is an author I’ve always enjoyed for the mysterious other-worldly feeling he brings to a story, and for his intense character-focused prose. So when Burning Paradise came out, it immediately jumped unto my reading list. I am happy to report that this novel measured up to expectations in both feeling and prose. It is an alternate reality story told from the point of view of several different characters. In this alternate reality the world has lived in a peaceful utopia since World War I, with none of the wars and conflicts that have happened in the real world. The problem is that this is no accident, human conflict has been suppressed by an alien entity resident in the upper atmosphere that manipulates communications on Earth to its own ends. Very few people know what is going on, the rest of the human race has no idea that they are being robbed of self-determination.

I really like what Wilson has done in creating this alien entity. The alien consists of microscopic organisms distributed in the atmosphere and communicating with each other to form a giant insect-like colony. In itself this isn’t a new concept, various types of such insect-like colonies have been done over and over again in fiction. Usually such colonies end up being innumerable drones ruled by a queen who is essentially human. Wilson takes a very different approach; his colony isn’t self-aware in the way a human is, but rather just a complex system capable of sophisticated actions to achieve the natural goals of living and reproducing, but without emotion or conscience like a self-aware being. This makes it more like a force of nature than a human antagonist. This is an alien that is truly alien, not just a human in disguise.

The one nit I would pick with this novel concerns the ending. I won’t throw any spoilers in here by giving details, I’ll just say that it had a bit of a deus ex machina feel to it. On the other hand, one thing that he did very well is show characters with very different reactions to how events evolved. Basically, some characters would have been happier if nobody messed with the alien entity, preferring the peaceful ignorance of living unaware under the alien’s control to the strife and uncertainty of self-determination. This attitude might sound crazy to a modern sensibility, but in real life I think this might represent the secret feelings of many people. I think it was gutsy of Wilson to go ahead and develop characters with these attitudes, despite the fact that it might rub many readers the wrong way.

Overall I wouldn’t rate this novel up with Wilson’s best, but it was definitely a good read. It’s just that some of his past work was so excellent that I have very high expectations when I see something new from him.
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  AugustvonOrth | Apr 20, 2017 |
Cassie's parents were murdered by 'sims' - human manifestations of a living being in the radiosphere ... A page-turner with a couple of unexpected (at least to me) twists at the end! ( )
  EvaW | Mar 12, 2017 |
Alternate history that qualifies as Science Fiction. Kept me reading almost nonstop until the end of the book, hanging on every word. When I was finished all I thought was, "Well that was kinda dumb. Fun yes, but kinda dumb." Robert Charles Wilson is obviously a virtuoso writer, but this book lacked substance. It felt like it was written for the purpose of fulfilling a quota for his publisher. Ya know, a whole bunch of ideas thrown together in great haste. I won't give up on old RCW quite yet, I here Spin was really good. ( )
  bemidt | Apr 20, 2016 |
Alternate history that qualifies as Science Fiction. Kept me reading almost nonstop until the end of the book, hanging on every word. When I was finished all I thought was, "Well that was kinda dumb. Fun yes, but kinda dumb." Robert Charles Wilson is obviously a virtuoso writer, but this book lacked substance. It felt like it was written for the purpose of fulfilling a quota for his publisher. Ya know, a whole bunch of ideas thrown together in great haste. I won't give up on old RCW quite yet, I here Spin was really good. ( )
  bemidt | Apr 20, 2016 |
Has a lot of Wilson's trademark conceptual innovation but on some level the conceit just doesn't click, and the characters don't rise to the level I'm used to in his books. It's like it's painted in drab colors and the sound is muddy.

Not an unpleasant read but never grabbed me as I'm used to with his novels. ( )
  ronhenry | Nov 17, 2015 |
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"Cassie Klyne, nineteen years old, lives in the United States in the year 2015--but it's not our United States, and it's not our 2015. Cassie's world has been at peace since the Great Armistice of 1918. There was no World War II, no Great Depression. Poverty is declining, prosperity is increasing everywhere; social instability is rare. But Cassie knows the world isn't what it seems. Her parents were part of a group who gradually discovered the awful truth: that for decades--back to the dawn of radio communications--human progress has been interfered with, made more peaceful and benign, by an extraterrestrial entity. That by interfering with our communications, this entity has tweaked history in massive and subtle ways. That humanity is, for purposes unknown, being farmed. Cassie's parents were killed for this knowledge, along with most of the other members of their group. Since then, the survivors have scattered and gone into hiding. Cassie and her younger brother Thomas now live with her aunt Nerissa, who shares these dangerous secrets. Others live nearby. For eight years they have attempted to lead unexceptional lives in order to escape detection. The tactic has worked. Until now. Because the killers are back. And they're not human"--… (more)

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