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BLIND LAKE – science fiction review

October 28, 2011

In February 2011 I spent four days on the Oregon coast. My wife and I were hunkered down in a rustic beach-house in the rain, drank wine, stared at the ocean. We had a great time, thank you. We were there for four days and being a slow reader I spent one and a half of those days reading Robert Charles Wilson’s BLIND LAKE from start to finish. I had already read SPIN (as noted here) and his short story collection THE PERSEIDS AND OTHER STORIES, so this wasn’t my first RCW rodeo. In fact, I’ve also read his CHRONOLITHS and MYSTERIUM, and out of these, BLIND LAKE is my favorite.

The story centers around a cast of characters but primary among them is Chris Carmody, a down on his luck science journalist with one last chance to get it right. He is invited to do a story on a cutting-edge federal research installation in northern Minnesota, at the titular Blind Lake. At the end of his first day’s visit, as he’s preparing to go back into town for the night, the gates around the installation unexpectedly close. He’s trapped inside along with everyone else on this side of the perimeter, completely cut off from the outside world.

The rest of the novel shows how the people who live and work (or happen to be stuck) at the Blind Lake installation deal with their strange situation. The purpose of the facility is to use a technology they don’t really understand to observe an alien creature on its own planet far, far away. The science is wonderfully presented by the characters so that I feel I understand it, or that at least I understand how well they understand it.

This plot is terrific and succeeds in putting people first; it’s always about how they’re feeling, how they’re interpreting the world. For all the big things that are going on around them, the real driving force in this story is an insecure bureaucrat named Ray Scutter (love that name!) For the people who know him, who put up with him, who try to like him, Ray serves as a kind of villain. In the plot sense, he motivates some of the story. In a way, this is a provincial Checkovian sci-fi story.

BLIND LAKE is a people story with sci-fi bass-line. It was a great story to read while stuck in my own isolation and one I readily recommend.


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