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WesternSFA
Burning Paradise
by Robert Charles Wilson
$25.99, Tom Doherty Assoc., 317pp
Release Date: November 5, 2013
Cassie and her younger brother, Thomas, live with their aunt in a world that has known peace since the Great Armistice of 1914. There are no more great wars, there is little poverty and, everywhere, societies are stable and prosperous. Everyone should be happy in such a human paradise but for Cassie and a few others, it is a bleak and dark time. Cassie’s parents belonged to a secret society who knew the truth – mankind was being protected from itself. An alien entity that lived in a layer of space above the atmosphere had been interfering with all types of communication – for decades. The interference was subtle and nearly undetectable – a missed communication with a belligerent ultimatum, shading of nuances in news broadcasts, momentary ‘blackouts’ or just static, enough to obscure an emotionally-laden word, a general softening of content. The reasons were unknowable, their intent unknowable, but their actions were all too clear – murder of anyone who got close to the truth. Such was the fate of Cassie and Thomas’ parents and many of their colleagues. Cassie’s aunt taught them escape protocols if any of the aliens wearing human facades ever came calling; and one night they finally came for Cassie and Thomas.

Cassie and Thomas end up on the doorstep of another child of the Society, Leo, whose father was the leader. They and Leo’s girlfriend, Beth, go on the run after witnessing what looked like another attack on Beth’s father. Their goal is to find Leo’s estranged father; the man who knows more about the alien than anyone else. His research indicated that the alien was a hive mind; incapable of self-awareness but entirely capable of manipulating humans. Simulacrums, or sims, appeared as human and were able to successfully mimic human behavior. Meanwhile, Cassie’s aunt, Ris, has fled to her ex-lover’s house where they have a most unusual encounter with an alien sim that doesn’t want to kill them. It only wants to talk. And it spins an extraordinary story – that the alien entity, the hypercolony, has been invaded by parasites. And the parasites have come to earth to find allies in their attempt to takeover. Ris and Ethan cannot believe anything the simulacrum says so they destroy it. But neither the hypercolony nor the parasitical entities are done with manipulating humans; for both their continued existence and possibly Earth’s, as well, are at stake.

What follows are converging journeys of the humans trying desperately to find a way to escape only to determine their only escape is the destruction of the hypercolony itself. But the challenge is the determined efforts of the parasites to convince the humans to help them. And their evidence is compelling; however unbelievable. And the final question: what’s the best thing for mankind?

Wilson is a very good plotter – the story was well structured with an interesting idea: would it be so very bad to have an overlord looking out for us since we can’t seem to grow up? Cassie and a couple other characters were pretty well-formed but others ended up shallow with little help from the author. But if you like your stories more action-driven and plot-oriented, then this should suit you well. It’s the sort of story that would lend itself well to an academic discussion. ~~ Catherine Book
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