It’s the fall of 2014, and plans are underway to mark the centenary of the Great Armistice treaty, which has brought lasting peace to the world. It’s been a period without widespread war overseen by the League of Nations, though a few people realize something is wrong. A renegade, clandestine group of scientists called the Correspondence Society has determined that humanity’s peace was actually created by an extraterrestrial parasite known as the hypercolony, which has been manipulating the world’s communications for unknown ends.
This alternate history provides the backdrop for Burning Paradise, the stunning new novel from Toronto-based science-fiction writer Robert Charles Wilson.
Eighteen-year-old Cassie and her younger brother Thomas have been living with their aunt Nerissa since 2007, when their parents, and many other members of the Correspondence Society, were slaughtered by the simulacrum – human-like agents of the hypercolony. As Burning Paradise opens, the simulacrum advance on the remnants of the society. Cassie and her brother take flight, falling in with a small group of fellow survivors, fighting their way across the U.S. and into South America in hopes of reuniting with their families and solving the problem of the hypercolony once and for all.
The greatest strength of Burning Paradise is Wilson’s facility in balancing both complex scientific ideas and high literary content, including skilfully developed characters and a well-paced, surprising narrative. The moral issues raised by the novel elevate it above the level of pulp, lending the book a gravitas that Wilson never overplays. Nothing is straightforward, and there are no easy, or ethically clear, conclusions.
Wilson has created mainstream science fiction of the highest order, easily accessible even for readers who usually avoid the genre, but morally complex and rewarding on all levels.