I think alot of people are going to be mildly disappointed with Vortex, but for all the wrong reasons. Some people will expect to gain some closure to the events of the first novel, Spin. What ever happened to Tyler? What ever became of Jason Lawton after the events of Spin came to a close? Others will expect a galaxy tripping event novel of Spin's magnitude. I started reading Vortex with the same expectations. And while those expectations were never met, what I got instead floored me.
As always, Wilson is concerned with his characters, first and foremost. Like all of his novels, Vortex is populated by isolated, folksy people clinging to one-another amidst world-changing, fantastic events. Characterization is thinner here than most of his previous work, but unlike those other novels (and this is saying alot), Wilson is working towards something bigger here. His aim is nothing less than finding Hope and Forgiveness within Heat Death.
There are usually only two kinds of sci-fi by Mr. Wilson. The hopeful variety such as Blind Lake, The Chronoliths, Bridge of Years, Julian Comstock and Spin. Then there's the hopeless, bleak kind like Bios and Axis. Here, Wilson's created a blend of both and absolutely nails it. Vortex is his premier work, in my humble opinion. I love The Chronoliths and Bridge of Years and I think Spin is a classic sci-fi novel. But what Wilson accomplishes here is tantamount to giving a hardcore athiest a reason to be spiritual. The last 40 pages of Vortex are an immense accomplishment. Maybe he hasn't tied all of the plot pieces together between Spin, Axis and Vortex, but he **has** tied them together thematically.
I can only imagine that being Robert Charles Wilson means being isolated and in immense amounts of pain, and that he works this pain out by writing gut-wrenching, mind-blowing sci-fi that leaves his readers not only scientifically challenged, but spiritually comforted.
To get the full effect, start with Spin, get through Axis and read Vortex with an open-mind. The journey is worth it, and its not quite what you expect.