She envisioned the work of evolution as a kind of blind, inarticulate poetry (121).
I’m a fan of Robert Charles Wilson’s work, but I took some time catching up to the award-winning author’s 2013 novel. Burning Paradise unfolds in an alternate present on a comparatively peaceful earth, infected by an interstellar parasite.
Not to be confused with the 1994 film of the same title.
Title: Burning Paradise
Author: Robert Charles Wilson
First published November 2013
This isn’t our twenty-first century.
At some point in earth’s past, an interstellar “hypercolony” quietly infected our planet. The world has seen comparatively high levels of peace, but the cost appears unacceptable to those few humans who are aware of the circumstances.
A small group knows the truth, and they find themselves targets. Meanwhile, the parasitic hypercolony has developed a parasite of its own.
Wilson uses a familiar enough trope—the superalien indifferent to individual humans, but making use of humanity—and develops it in mind-warping, thought-provoking ways, in order to ask some difficult questions…
…While I appreciated the story and its concerns, I never felt the sense of awe and astonishment created by his best novels.
Originality: 4/6 Although aspects of the book will be familiar to SF fans, the nature of the threat feels original and the response to it, highly inventive. I haven’t encountered an alien quite like this one, dangerous but not actively malevolent. Indeed, it lacks consciousness in anything like the sense we understand the word.
At least, in the sense we’d like to think we understand he word.
Imagery: 5/6 The assault on the factory plays like Hollywood Blockbuster, but no action hero faced adversaries quite like these.
Story: 5/6 Straightforward, for Robert Charles Wilson, the plot of this effective SF thriller turns on a difficult decision that develops naturally from the novel’s underlying premise. The set-up may feel artificial to some readers, but Wilson takes its implications seriously.
Characterization: 5/6 The characters are believable, though not as consistently well-developed and differentiated as they might be. Nevertheless, Wilson has always written stories about human beings placed in mind-bending circumstances, and Burning Paradise remains a human story with chillingly familiar human concerns.
Editing: 6/6 Wilson remains one of SF’s most talented and literary writers.
Emotional Response: 5/6
Overall score: 5/6 This isn’t Wilson’s best work, but he remains one of the best SF writers of our time, often underrated by genre fans, and Burning Paradise is a book worth reading.
In total, Burning Paradise receives 35/42
Early editions of Wilson’s Blind Lake misnamed a character “Nerissa Iverson” on the jacket. Wilson gives that name to a character in Burning Paradise, fulfilling his desire to do so “to confuse the hell out of everybody.”*