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Robert Charles Wilson

Robert Charles Wilson(1953- )
Robert Charles Wilson lives in Toronto, Canada. His Darwinia was a Hugo finalist and won the Canadian national SF award for novel of the year; his latest novel, The Chronoliths, was a New York Times Notable Book.

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Five Questions for Robert Charles Wilson

Robert Charles Wilson’s new novel, The Affinities, comes out today. As I mentioned in my review of The Affinities, I was hooked from start to finish. At the end, I had a few questions for Wilson which he was willing to answer. So here are five questions and five answers for one of the 21st century’s best science fiction writers.

Ryan Skardal: Many of your works focus on watershed moments. These moments are often caused by mysterious forces from the future or outer space, but InterAlia's algorithm seems much more familiar given how much facebook apparently knows about us (or can predict). What inspired you to write about the social algorithms in The Affinities?

Robert Charles Wison



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Spin

Spin — (2005-2011) Publisher: Spin is Robert Charles Wilson’s Hugo Award-winning masterpiece — a stunning combination of a galactic “what if” and a small-scale, very human story. One night in October when he was ten years old, Tyler Dupree stood in his back yard and watched the stars go out. They all flared into brilliance at once, then disappeared, replaced by a flat, empty black barrier. He and his best friends, Jason and Diane Lawton, had seen what became known as the Big Blackout. It would shape their lives. The effect is worldwide. The sun is now a featureless disk — a heat source, rather than an astronomical object. The moon is gone, but tides remain. Not only have the world’s artificial satellites fallen out of orbit, their recovered remains are pitted and aged, as though they’d been in space far longer than their known lifespans. As Tyler, Jason, and Diane grow up, a space probe reveals a bizarre truth: The barrier is artificial, generated by huge alien artifacts. Time is passing faster outside the barrier than inside — more than a hundred million years per year on Earth. At this rate, the death throes of the sun are only about forty years in our future. Jason, now a promising young scientist, devotes his life to working against this slow-moving apocalypse. Diane throws herself into hedonism, marrying a sinister cult leader who’s forged a new religion out of the fears of the masses. Earth sends terraforming machines to Mars to let the onrush of time do its work, turning the planet green. Next they send humans… and immediately get back an emissary with thousands of years of stories to tell about the settling of Mars. Then Earth’s probes reveal that an identical barrier has appeared around Mars. Jason, desperate, seeds near space with self-replicating machines that will scatter copies of themselves outward from the sun — and report back on what they find. Life on Earth is about to get much, much stranger.

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Spin: Every science fiction novel condensed into one book

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Spin by Robert Charles Wilson

With Spin, Robert Charles Wilson has condensed every science fiction novel into one book.

It’s quite an accomplishment, really, though the novel begins innocently enough. We’re in the near future with our narrator, Tyler Dupree, who is injected with a strange cure somewhere in Sumatra. The drug produces side effects, and one of them compels Tyler to tell his life’s story.

Tyler grew up in the little house “across the lawn.” His mother, Carol, cleaned the house of the Lawton family while Tyler played games with their children, Jason and Diane. Jason, a genius, is groomed to take over his father’s vast fortune. Their father, E.D, neglects Diane. Tyler envies Jason and Diane their fancy bicycles and their wealth. Even as a child, he always loved Diane.

One night, Tyler, Jason, and Diane are sitting ... Read More

Axis: Obsessed with the transcendent forces of the universe

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Axis by Robert Charles Wilson

Earth has now been surrounded by the mysterious spin barrier that slows time relative to the rest of the universe for decades. Extra-terrestrial forces have also built the Arch that connects Earth to a series of unknown and increasingly environmentally hostile worlds. Humanity is now colonizing the first new world, but they still wonder about what beings — the Hypotheticals — could have created the spin barriers around these planets, not to mention the arches that connect them.

There are intergalactic forces at work in Axis, Robert Charles Wilson’s sequel to Spin, but the story is grounded in Lise Adams’ quest to discover what happened to her father. He went missing without any trace when she was young. She attracts Turk Findley, a frontier pilot, to her cause and together they journey into the desert in search of Dr. Avram Dva... Read More

Vortex: Killer butterflies, interplanetary archipelagos, and a satisfying ending

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Vortex by Robert Charles Wilson

Turk Findley has been returned to Equatoria ten thousand years after the Hypotheticals took him and Isaac. Things have changed. The Ring of Worlds that was connected by the Arches remains, but the societies that once traveled between these interplanetary portals have died away and been replaced. The Earth, sadly, is a wasteland. Its oceans are too acidic and its air is too poisonous to support life. Unfortunately, when the Hypotheticals connected Earth to other worlds, humanity began importing oil from Equatoria, which boosted the economy but destroyed our planet.

Now, however, Turk is recruited by Treya, a member of the Vox. The Vox is a limbic democracy (as opposed to a cortical democracy) where everyone has a chip in ... Read More

A Bridge of Years: Time travel to 1962

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A Bridge of Years by Robert Charles Wilson

Tom Winter tried to find solace in a bottle when his wife left him. He lost his job and concluded that 1989 was a pretty tough year. Now, Tom is trying to make a go of it in Belltower in the Pacific Northwest. His brother has set him up with a job as a car salesman, and he has bought a house. Life seems pretty mundane, until Tom realizes that the house is a time machine that leads to New York in 1962.

Published in 1991, Robert Charles Wilson’s A Bridge of Years is his first time travel novel, but it’s the third one I’ve read by him. Here, the traveler wanders through a tunnel from one time/location to another. There is no dial for Tom to turn to 11 or to 1924 or to the future. (This is not to say that the tunnels are... Read More

Darwinia: Europe, suddenly terraformed

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Darwinia by Robert Charles Wilson

In 1912, continental Europe suddenly changed into a foreign wilderness. Where there once were European nations arming for war, there are now new ecosystems and alien creatures. There is even a baffling, new evolutionary history. Christians declare “Darwinia” a miracle — what else could explain what’s happened but Biblical precedent? America, meanwhile, declares the continent open for exploration and settlement.

Guilford Law, originally from Boston, is an ambitious photographer who travels to England with his wife and daughter. He leaves them there before traveling alone with the Finch expedition. The expedition hopes to penetrate the European wilderness, and Guilford hopes to make a name for himself.

Elias Vale, meanwhile, is an American con man who suddenly realizes that he has been inhabited by a demon that grants him strange po... Read More

Bios: A rare miss from RCW

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Bios: A Novel of Planetary Exploration by Robert Charles Wilson

Isis is not the M class planet we have been looking for, and upon landing the humans discover that it’s extraordinarily toxic to them. It’s not cheap traveling through space to distant planets, so the scientists will just have to do their best. This is the premise of Robert Charles Wilson’s Bios: A Novel of Planetary Exploration. The scientists initially try to solve this problem with nifty machines and suits, but eventually one of them tries to change people at a genetic level to make them fit the planet, rather than conquering it.

Zoe carries the modified “bloodware,” and she wants to make life work on the new planet. On Earth, she was sexually abused, and though her emotions were “smooth... Read More

The Perseids and Other Stories: Strange nights in Toronto

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The Perseids and Other Stories by Robert Charles Wilson

I’m mostly a sceptic of both short stories and short story collections. When reading short science fiction, I can’t help thinking that if the premise were truly worthwhile, the author would have developed it into a novel — or at least a novella. I’m perhaps revealing my own limitations rather than my preferences. Still, I’ve found that the most common descriptions of short story collections are “mixed bag” or “some are duds.” And because every word counts so much more in shorts, the prose too often is so much more… overwrought. Ironic or not, considering that science fiction is often carried by an interesting premise rather than interesting characters, some part of me still insists that its best ideas be delivered as novels.

So I was pleased to realize that Read More

The Chronoliths: Monoliths from the future

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The Chronoliths by Robert Charles Wilson

Scott Warden, known to most as “Scotty,” kept his wife and daughter, Janice and Kaitlin, in Thailand after the coding contracts dried up. Scotty now spends most of his time aimlessly “just living” in the ex-pat beach culture. Scotty’s broke, but at least he doesn’t deal drugs like his buddy, Hitch Paley. Drug dealer he might be, but Scotty figures that Hitch is basically a good guy, deep down.

It’s Hitch that takes Scotty along the back roads to see the first Chronolith.

The Chronolith is impressive and mysterious. Where did it come from? It marks the first victory of Kuin  — except that it’s dated twenty years in the future. When Scotty returns from seeing the first Chronolith, he discovers that his daughter got sick and had to be hospitalized. Janice tried to contact Scotty but couldn’t find him. It’s the ... Read More

Blind Lake: Lockdown at an Interplanetary Observation Facility

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Blind Lake by Robert Charles Wilson

Of course I know what to expect when reading one of Robert Charles Wilson’s novels: a strange technology or entity has a localized effect that snowballs until it has the potential to completely change the world. We follow the ride primarily from the point of view of one everyman character, but he just happens to know both the scientists and the politicians that are responding to the strange technology. 300 pages later, the story is finished.

But that’s not how Blind Lake works — or at least not exactly.

Yes, there is a strange technology — the O/BECs. Are the O/BECs like telescopes? Well, they allow us to see distant planets, including one that hosts sentient life (aliens!). The center of these machines is referred to as “eyeball alley,” but perhaps the true center of these machines ... Read More

Julian Comstock: A Story of 22nd-Century America

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Julian Comstock: A Story of 22nd-Century America by Robert Charles Wilson

Robert Charles Wilson's novel Julian Comstock is set in a vastly changed 22nd-century USA — after the end of the age of oil and atheism has resulted in disaster. Technology is mostly back to pre-20th century levels, and the population has been vastly reduced due to social upheaval and disease. Society has become fully class-based, divided into a Eupatridian aristocracy, middle-class lease-men, and indentured servants. The country — which now stretches across most of the North American continent — is involved in a lengthy and brutal war with the Dutch over control of the recently opened Northwest Passage.

In this setting we meet the novel's extraordinary hero, Julian Comstock, the nephew of the dictatorial president Deklan Comstock. Julian is a free-thinker with a deep interest in the... Read More

Burning Paradise: Strong stand-alone Sci Fi

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Burning Paradise by Robert Charles Wilson

Members of the Correspondence Society have discovered an extra-terrestrial entity, which they refer to as the “Hypercolony,” in the atmosphere. The Hypercolony secretly monitors and subtly alters terrestrial transmissions in order to maintain peace on Earth. A few skirmishes aside, they have been successful, and humanity is once again celebrating the anniversary of the 1914 Armistice Day.

Earth may be a paradise, but it would be a mistake to consider the Hypercolony a benevolent entity. Its algorithms guide it to intervene in a way that will maximize its own chances for survival, a drive that makes it seem symbiotic. However, when the Hypercolony discovered the Correspondence Society in 2007, it sent agents — sims — to eliminate the threat. The “sims” — short for “simulacra” — look like humans, though an autopsy will reveal that they lack... Read More

The Affinities: What if online dating worked?

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The Affinities by Robert Charles Wilson

Adam Fink was just another graphic art student in Toronto before he took InterAlia’a affinity test. The affinity test examines a person’s genes, brain patterns, and behavior and sorts people into one of twenty-two affinities (or into none of them). InterAlia has an algorithm that’s sort of like online dating, but it looks like they got it right this time.

The Affinities are still new when Adam takes the test. Not a lot is widely known about them, but there are twenty-two Affinity groups. The Taus might be the largest Affinity, and though it’s wrong to generalize, their members tend to smoke pot, they tend to enter open relationships, and they tend to prefer decentralized groups to hierarchical leadership. The Hets, meanwhile, are extremely hierarchical and deeply concerned with power and domin... Read More

Last Year: Time travel tourism

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Last Year by Robert Charles Wilson

Jesse Cullum works security at the City of Futurity – in fact, he just saved President Ulysses S. Grant from an assassination attempt, though he lost his Oakleys in the process.

The science fiction premise of Robert Charles Wilson’s Last Year (2016), is outlined in its opening scene. Oakleys are sunglasses that come from our time, but Ulysses S. Grant was one of the most important generals in the American Civil War. How can both exist in the same place? Well, in this novel, a “mirror” allows people to travel back in time, but to a specific point in the past — and it will produce a different a future. The people who travel back are tourists, and the City of Futurity, run by August Kemp, makes money from the past’s weal... Read More

The New Space Opera 2: All-New Tales of Science Fiction Adventure

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The New Space Opera 2: All-New Tales of Science Fiction Adventure edited by Gardner Dozois & Jonathan Strahan

The New Space Opera 2: All-New Tales of Science Fiction Adventure is, as its name implies, the second of Gardner Dozois and Jonathan Strahan’s themed anthologies attempting to put a modern spin on space opera, a subgenre of science fiction which causes many of us to think of big metal spaceships crewed by handsome blaster-wielding men who protect us from evil aliens that want to destroy the Earth, or at least steal it’s shrieking scantily clad women. We laugh at these old stories now — the way they ignore the vacuum of space and the effects of relativity, the way their aliens seem a lot less alien than they should, and the way that... Read More

Magic Time

Magic Time — (2001-2004) Marc Scott Zicree with Barbara Hambly, Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff, Robert Charles Wilson. Publisher: Reality is not what it was. Desperate science run amok has collided with dark sorcery, and together they have ripped open a gaping wound into… something. Now, in an instant, everything is different. The horrific is mundane, the impossible rational. Nothing works and everyone pays.Welcome to… Magic Time. For rising young lawyer Cal Griffin, it’s just another day in the Big City, full of stress, screw-ups, deadlines, and anxiety. That is, until New York is rocked by a series of bizarre tremors — and the lights go off… for good. Trapped in a giant metropolis and cut off from the rest of the world, Cal tries desperately to make sense of the surreal chaos that engulfs his crippled city. Worst of all, the people around him are… changing. Once ordinary humans are becoming embodiments of their darkest desires, manifestations of their deepest fears. Packs of pale, crouched figures stalk the subways, glowing child-faces peer out of the shadows… and monsters prowl Times Square. Similar weirdness is happening everywhere, from the dank, cold heart of a West Virginia coal mine to a remote lab in South Dakota — where an overworked team of government physicists has unwittingly invited something catastrophic into the world — to the highest levels of power in Washington, D.C. And Cal Griffin is not the only one who will be forced into a strange new role in this brave new world of nightmare and wonder. A spinster school-teacher, a lonely miner, a refugee doctor, a visionary street person, a brooding Secret Service agent, all share a staggering responsibility with the young attorney to make sense of the senseless — and to follow an awesome destiny. For they are to be soldiers in a titanic battle between darkness and light. And its raging hellfires will effect the most astonishing transformation of all — turning a young man of pure heart into that rarest of creatures: a hero.

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Magic Time: Not aging well

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Magic Time by Marc Scott Zicree and Barbara Hambly

Magic Time is the first book of a fantasy trilogy helmed by Marc Scott Zicree. This book is co-written with Barbara Hambly. Each of the subsequent books in the series is written with a different writer. Magic Time was published in 2001, and it is not aging well.

I had a difficult time getting through Magic Time. It narrowly missed achieving Did Not Finish status. When I did finish it I realized that all this book did was set up Book Two.

Zicree’s book is a post-apocalyptic fantasy in the mode of The Stand and Swan Song, although the cause of the cataclysm that brings magic into our world springs from ... Read More