December 14th, 2009

breaking bad

Blind Lake

I'm listening to a mainstream SF novel from 2003 called Blind Lake by a Canadian writer called Robert Charles Wilson. I haven't read anything else by him, but on the evidence of this, he is a decent writer. This book seems like the good old standard SF - a good story, plausible people, clear writing style. Nothing too flashy. I will look out for his other books; I think Darwinia is the most famous. Does anyone have any opinions on his work?

Blind Lake is set 50 years in the future. A bank of evolved quantum processors has been set up to enhance images from a huge telescope array, scanning distant planets. It has begun to deliver images more detailed than seems physically possible, including evidence of extraterrestrial life, eventually close ups of aliens going about their business. Is the Blind Lake array providing accurate imagery using physical processes yet undiscovered by people, or is it faking 'what humans want to see'? It seems to me that the latter is the most likely explanation but I haven't got to the end yet, and so far only the nastiest character in the story agrees with me.

At the start of the story three reporters visit the scientific station at Blind Lake, where the images are being observed, and that afternoon it goes into lock-down. The lock-down stretches, without explanation, to months of isolation. Rations are dropped in, but there is otherwise no contact with the outside world. Unlike the new Stephen King book Dome, they do not descend into psychotic anarchy, but sort of rub along in a slightly depressed and irritable way. It seems fairly realistic to me.

There are four strong and distinctive women characters: a nerdy scientist, a cynical reporter, a strong minded secretary and an 11 year old girl with weird powers. It has taxed the audio reader - a guy with a rich deep voice - to produce four distinctive high pitched voices.

The story is not entirely WYSIWYG. There are issues raised about how we model or mirror the existence of other minds, with images of reflection, mirrors, projection, isolation. It's also very cold and snowy in the story, which fits in nicely with the weather here now.