Blind Lake Mass Market Paperback – Jul 11 2004
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Robert Charles Wilson has made a career out of reinventing science fiction, mainly by taking the classic elements of the genre and updating them to the 21st century. Darwinia returned to the fantastic adventure writing of Jules Verne and Arthur Conan Doyle by transforming Europe into a new Lost World, while The Chronoliths used time travel to comment on the future direction of our civilization. Now, with Blind Lake, Wilson revisits perhaps the most classic of sci-fi subjects: first contact with aliens. Set in the Blind Lake research facility, the book follows a group of scientists who are using a form of quantum technology they don't understand to study aliens on a distant planet. The scientists are unable to communicate with the aliens, who are apparently unaware of the humans. There is little chance of the two species ever meeting, and an even smaller chance of the humans ever understanding the workings of the alien society. The situation becomes even more frustrating for the scientists when the facility is sealed off after a mysterious incident at a sister installation and the quantum technology begins to malfunction.
The book has a few flaws--the characters are sometimes little more than ciphers, and the plot occasionally stretches the believability factor--but these are minor points. This is a novel of ideas, and Wilson explores some very big ideas here as the study of the aliens becomes a thoughtful meditation on our own place in the universe. In the process, the book touches on a range of present-day issues, from the politics surrounding space exploration to new forms of spirituality. The book rejects closure throughout, instead embracing uncertainty and ambivalence. Wilson doesn't want to leave us with neat, simple answers to complicated questions; he wants us to question where we go from here. --Peter Darbyshire --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Wilson (The Chronoliths) grapples with the ineffable in a superior SF thriller notable for credible characters and a well-crafted plot. In the mid-21st century, revolutionary new technology allows scientists to watch life forms on planets circling other stars as if they were just a few feet away. At Blind Lake, one of two installations devoted to this purpose, Marguerite Hauser studies an enigmatic alien being who has been dubbed Subject, while also dealing with her ex-husband, Ray Scutter, a mid-level bureaucrat who constantly questions her fitness to have custody over their daughter, Tessa. Then Blind Lake mysteriously goes into lockdown the day after Chris Carmody, a journalist beset by self-doubt and a sordid past, arrives in hopes of finding a story that will restart his career. Automated trucks continue to deliver food, but all communication with the outside world is cut off. Military drones kill anyone attempting to break the quarantine. As the months pass, the installation's large population begins to come unglued. In particular, Ray, who disapproves of Marguerite's new relationship with Chris, starts to stalk his ex-wife. Tessa's possible contact with an alien even stranger than Subject adds to the suspense. Thoughtful and deliberately paced, this book will appeal to readers who prefer science fiction with substance.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top Customer Reviews
To touch on what everyone else has said, I found the characters generally believable. But, as in most novels of big ideas, at times some of the characters became less than real. Ray was real enough to dislike. Chris was real enough to like. And, of course, Tess, the real focus of the story, as find out later, but should have realized sooner, was quite well developed.
In all the other reviews no one has mentioned Arthur Clarke or 2001. In some ways I see parallels between the monolith and the eye. In 2001 the pilot goes through the monolith for a kind of rebirth. Here people go through the starfish. We don't know where they go, but we can speculate they meet 'mirror girl' or one of her siblings and join some transcenedental existence.
And, ultimately, isn't that what the book is all about? How we are connected to the rest of the universe whether we know it or not?
All in all, a very satisfying and thought provoking read.
Blind Lake is almost an existential exploration of the nature of perception; how do we know what things really look like when we're only presented with heavily processed images? In the case of Blind Lake, there are super-quantum computers, so complex that no-one really understands how they work, providing images of distant worlds by extrapolating data feeds from no longer functioning satellites. Sounds dull? Nope...Kierkegaard it most definitely isn't. Throw in a mysterious lockdown and a handful of splendidly developed characters and what you have is a very fine read. My only slight niggle is the miserly publishing; the book has very small margins so that I had to keep moving my hands and open the book wider than I'd prefer.
I think perhaps I'll dive into `A Bridge of Years' next...
Blind Lake is a research establishment and seemed set up in the Oak Ridge Tennessee fashion of WW II era but had taken place in the future. Like Oak Ridge where the entire settlement was created to study and develop an atomic bomb, Blind Lake was established to spy on an alien culture using technology that was developed but not entirely understood even by the developers. The plot develops around three journalists who visit Blind Lake only to find it suddenly under lockdown. The uncertainty of the situation affords the author to develop stories and relationships which keep the reader eager to turn pages. Several plots develop and as they always do, unfold and reveal their interconnectedness by the end of the book. I was most impressed with the character development, again believable, likable and identifiable.
My only contention is that the facility lockdown took place throughout the entire novel and it was difficult to believe there was no contact from the outside world and all the while, the occupants took this in stride. And finally, a conclusion that was a satisfying ending to the novel. An easy flowing novel that I would recommend to anyone whose first interest is not necessarily science fiction.
The biggest flaw lies with the characters, which are frequently ignored in the cause of Wilson's big ideas; like many sf novels, it sometimes feels as if the characters are just saying the things the author wants them to say, rather than the things they would naturally say. Their personal struggles, rather than being linked with the larger story as in The Chronoliths, feel arbitrary and distracting from the cosmological heart of the novel; moments that should resonate end up irritating instead.
The prose isn't exactly inspiring either. For a veteran sf writer, Wilson has a surprisingly clunky and graceless way of handling exposition, falling into that old trap of the infodump. This is true even at the climax of the novel, where Wilson suddenly decides to humanize the villain in a way that simply doesn't work; I can't imagine how it could have felt more tacked on. Some moments (Subject's story, for one) work like gangbusters, but most don't.
The big themes of the novel are also over-emphasized; the refrain, "It could end at any moment" is repeated ad nauseam, when Wilson could have gotten the same effect in a more graceful way. In fact, what the novel needs in general is a little grace and subtlety, allowing the big picture to emerge from the give and take of natural character interaction; sadly, what could have been a moving and involving tale is instead a routine sf thriller. It's exciting enough, but nothing like what Robert Charles Wilson is capable of.
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I was a little suspicious of this book, after having read a little of it, because:
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I've read several of Wilson's books now. The Chronoliths was great. However, both Darwinia and this book, Blind Lake, struck me as much weaker. Read morePublished on March 13 2004 by R. Kelly Wagner
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I nearly put the book down after 2 chapters. But I am glad I stuck with it. Only slightly futuristic, and while the underlying science is unlikely, the concepts are unusual and... Read morePublished on Dec 8 2003 by V. K. Noll