April 29, 2004

Blind Lake by Robert Charles Wilson

blindlake.jpgThe title Blind Lake refers to a national laboratory type of installation in northern Minnesota. The lab is the second of its kind where imperfectly-understood quantum computers are being used to observe life forms on far-distant planets.

We initially see the community at Blind Lake through the eyes of a team of journalists, but shortly after they arrive, the lab is locked down with no one and no information allowed in or out. The lockdown continues for weeks and then months (the folks on the outside do send in food and medical supplies) with no explanation.

This is the least believable part of the whole book. Evidently in Wilson's version of the future, all radio technology has completely disappeared from the face of the earth. There's not a single transistor radio in this research lab, let alone an amateur radio rig or shortwave. Serious strain to my suspension of disbelief here. He could have fixed it, too. He had this big magic computer sitting there and could easily have claimed that it completely interfered with all radio signals, but if he took advantage of that possibility, I missed it.

Okay, setting aside that annoying hole, there were things I liked about the book. It unrolls at a slow, quiet, brooding pace that paradoxically made it more intense and suspenseful. Shoot, now that I'm thinking about it I'm having a hard time coming up with much positive to say about it.

All the SF-nal elements of the book seemed derivative to me. The computer/telescope/spy-camera felt like the wormhole cameras in The Light of Other Days by Arthur C. Clarke and Stephen Baxter. Parts of the ending felt like I'd been reading Dan Simmons's Hyperion books. Or Sagan's Contact. The lab stuff felt like Robert J. Sawyer's Flashforward or Frameshift. The claustrophobic midwest siege setting was like Wilson's own Mysterium. There were other things that struck me as I was reading it that I can't remember now. I have a certain tolerance for borrowing stuff from other books as long as you're pasting them into something that sheds new light, but I didn't feel like Wilson pulled that off here.

I read the book at the insistence of a friend and his wife, each of whom had greatly enjoyed it. Halfway through reading the book I learned that it's been nominated for a Hugo. Clearly mileage varies.

Posted by jeffy at April 29, 2004 11:17 PM
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