Wilson, Robert Charles 1953–
Wilson, Robert Charles 1953–
Born 1953, in CA; Canadian citizen; married; wife's name Sharry.
Home—Concord, Ontario, Canada. E-mail—mcw[email protected]
Philip K. Dick Award, Philadelphia Science Fiction Society, 1986 (nominee), for A Hidden Place, 1994 (winner), for Mysterium; Prix Aurora Award, Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Association, 1996, for "The Perseids" (novelette), 1999, for Darwinia, 2002, for The Chronoliths, and 2004, for Blind Lake; Nebula Award nominee, Science Fiction Writers of America, 1997, for "The Perseids"; Hugo Award nominee, World Science Fiction Society, 1999, for Darwinia, 2002, for The Chronoliths, and 2004, for Blind Lake; John W. Campbell Memorial Award, Dell Magazines, 2002, for The Chronoliths; Hugo Award, 2006, for Spin; Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award for short fiction, 2007, for short story "The Cartesian Theater."
A Hidden Place, Bantam (New York, NY), 1986.
Memory Wire, Bantam (New York, NY), 1988.
Gypsies, Doubleday (Garden City, NY), 1989.
The Divide, Doubleday (Garden City, NY), 1990.
A Bridge of Years, Doubleday (Garden City, NY), 1991.
The Harvest, Bantam (New York, NY), 1992.
Mysterium, Bantam (New York, NY), 1994.
Darwinia, Tor Books (New York, NY), 1998.
Bios, Tor Books (New York, NY), 1999.
The Perseids and Other Stories, Tor Books (New York, NY), 2000.
The Chronoliths, Tor Books (New York, NY), 2001.
Blind Lake, Tor Books (New York, NY), 2003.
(With Marc Scott Zicree) Magic Time: Ghostlands, EOS (New York, NY), 2004.
Spin, Tor Books (New York, NY), 2005.
Axis, Tor (New York, NY), 2007.
Contributor to periodicals, including Analog, Asimov's and F&SF; and to anthologies, including Star Colonies, 1996, The UFO Files, 1997, Eternal Lovecraft: The Persistence of H.P. Lovecraft in Popular Culture, 1998, and The Year's Best Science Fiction Sixteenth Annual Collection, 1999.
Through a series of novels beginning in the mid-1980s, science fiction novelist Robert Charles Wilson has earned high praise from both readers and critics. In the book Twentieth-Century Science-Fiction Writers, Henry Leperlier stated: "It is quite possible that Wilson will be one of the few writers of the 1980s that will survive his own era. His treatment of contemporary themes such as alienation and the loss of identity puts him in the same league with many science fiction and mainstream writers who have managed to resist the passage of time."
Wilson gained critical recognition with his first novel, the love story A Hidden Place, which is set in a small prairie town. Wilson's consideration of human emotion in the novel brought him comparisons, according to Leperlier, with novelist Theodore Sturgeon. The two human protagonists, Travis Fisher and his girlfriend Nancy Wilcox, come under the influence of a woman from the realm of Faery, Anna Blaise, whose quest is to reunite with her male half, a hobo named Bone who does not remember his true origin. Tom Easton, in Analog, noted that the novel is about misfits, as did Leperlier, who called the characters "estranged persons." According to Easton, the novel contains "salutary vicarious lessons for its readers." In a review of Wilson's second novel, Memory Wire, Easton reflected on A Hidden Place as "fine and moving and instructive." He liked Memory Wire even more, finding it "more plausible" than its predecessor and containing "marvelous science fictional devisings"; indeed, Easton predicted possible Hugo and Nebula nominations for the book, which is the study of a man cybernetically altered to be a perfectly objective "Recording Angel." In Quill & Quire, reviewer Kim G. Kofmel found Memory Wire "compelling" as an adventure tale, a love story, a "well-drawn" vision of the future, and "an examination of the function of memory, of the freedoms and constraints contained in both remembering and forgetting."
Wilson's third novel, Gypsies, comprises "a blend of science fiction, mystery, and thriller," according to Publishers Weekly critic Sybil Steinberg—a combination she found "spellbinding." The "gypsies" of the title are actually adult siblings, abused in childhood, who possess the power to move among invented worlds. The protagonist, Karen, has settled for a normal married life in Toronto, but divorce and the return of a mysterious "Grey Man" from her past prompt her, and her similarly gifted teenage son, to seek refuge with her sister Laura, who lives in a West Coast utopia of her own invention. More than one critic commented that the novel straddles genres; Sharon Oard Warner, in the New York Times Book Review, found the book's turn toward fantasy and away from realism somewhat awkward. Leperlier, while praising the realistic psychology of the work, regretted that its fantastic aspects relied on magic rather than adhering to the conventions of science fiction.
In The Divide, Wilson produced what Gerald Jonas, in the New York Times Book Review, called "a literate thriller, a superbly crafted novel of character and a thoughtful exploration of what it might feel like to be a superman." The superman in question is John Shaw, who has been created by a government experiment that closes down, leaving Shaw estranged—as so many of Wilson's characters are—from everyday society. Shaw develops a second personality in order to deal with the world around him; a love triangle arises, as each of his personalities is involved with a different woman. Reviewer and science fiction writer Jonas expressed wonder at Wilson's ability to "satisfy the demands of plausibility while contriving a ‘happy ending’" for The Divide. Pippa Wysong, in Quill & Quire, however, found the book's ending "predictable."
Jonas, though continuing to voice admiration for Wilson's gifts, was nevertheless somewhat disappointed by the author's next work, A Bridge of Years, in which a young man in the Pacific Northwest, recovering from alcoholism and divorce, discovers a time-travel mechanism that takes him to Greenwich Village in 1962. Jonas regretted, in particular, a plot turn in which the custodian of the device, a time-traveling cyborg soldier from the future, tries to get it back; the reviewer maintained that the two major plot strands, while separately interesting, interfered with one another. A critic writing in the Los Angeles Times Book Review found the novel too intricately plotted but wrote that the protagonist, Tom Winter, is "particularly well drawn" and that Wilson's prose is "lovingly crafted." A Tribune Books commentator found the novel "an entertaining mix of human foible and heroic action, held together by vivid imagination."
The Harvest combines an up-to-date science fiction premise with a "cozy" Northwest setting, according to R. John Hayes in Quill & Quire. In the novel an extraterrestrial starship, whose inhabitants are masters of nanotechnology and virtual reality, appears above the earth, offering a high-tech immortality on another world for all humans who choose it. The earth is soon depopulated, except for one-hundredth of one percent of the human species, who have refused the offer for various individual reasons. The novel follows a selected sample of those people and in the process presents a view of human motivation and its emotional complexity. As with The Divide, critics were themselves divided over the book, especially over its ending. In the New York Times Book Review, Jonas called The Harvest "an intelligently conceived, fully realized novel," and singled out the ambiguities of the ending for special praise: "Because he eschews pat answers, Mr. Wilson manages to derive great suspense from the questions that the survivors pose to themselves and to one another." Easton, in Analog, commented that he "enjoyed The Harvest a great deal," yet found it less satisfying than A Bridge of Years and other works by Wilson, precisely because of the ending's ambiguity.
Wilson's seventh novel, Mysterium, is set in the small town of Two Rivers in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan—a town that, in this fictional treatment, has been transported into an alternate reality, a North America governed by a French-English confederacy whose religion is Gnostic Christian. Searching for the how and why of their startling situation, the townspeople discover that they are to be the subjects of this society's first experiment in exploding an atomic bomb. Their task, from that point on, is to find a way out of their predicament, and they do so with the help of a Nobel-winning physicist, Alan Stern, who never appears in the book but guides its spirit throughout. A Publishers Weekly reviewer wrote of Mysterium: "Wilson … blends science, religion, philosophy and alternate history into an intelligent, compelling work of fiction." Other critics were united in praise of Wilson's literary skill, especially his characterizations. Jonas wrote in the New York Times Book Review that "Mr. Wilson is adept at drawing fully rounded characters in a few paragraphs. Everyone in the large cast is seen from the inside." In Quill & Quire, fantasy novelist Michelle Sagara sounded a similar note: "There are no cardboard people in Wilson's hands; even glimpsed for only a page, his people become real. He is that rarest of writers—one who writes both truthfully and with great affection for his characters." Jonas added that the book's ending was "as poignant as it is unexpected."
In Darwinia Wilson posits an alternate world in which all of Europe disappears mysteriously in 1912, leaving behind Darwinia, a virgin continent filled with strange animals and plants. While America undergoes a religious revival in response to the enigmatic catastrophe, an expedition is mounted into the heart of Darwinia to discover its secrets. John Mort, in his review of the novel for Booklist, called it "eerie, paranoid, and menacing." Complaining that the novel's point is "dizzyingly abstract," a reviewer for Publishers Weekly nevertheless praised the book's style as "rich, lucid and literate." "If you read only one SF book this year," wrote Denise Dumars in Library Journal, "this wonderfully evocative epic should be it."
In The Perseids and Other Stories, a collection, all of the stories are centered on Finders, a used bookstore frequented by the characters. "Wilson's slow-building, many-layered yarns shape characters out of the raw materials of loneliness and intellectual isolation," wrote a critic for Publishers Weekly. "Readers in search of thoughtful, resonant writing will enjoy this collection of urban fantasies." A Kirkus Reviews contributor found the stories to be "beautifully observed, skillfully worked out," and believed they "flow subtly, almost imperceptibly, from the prosaic to the preternatural."
In the 2003 publication Blind Lake, scientist Marguerite Hauser uses new technology to study an alien life form on a distant planet, while trying to raise her young daughter and deal with the fallout from her recent divorce. Marguerite's life at the research facility is further complicated when reporter Chris Carmody comes to Blind Lake looking for the story that will revitalize his floundering career. For reasons unknown, the facility is quarantined shortly after Chris's arrival, leaving Blind Lake's large population of workers and their families completely isolated from the outside world. Marguerite and Chris grow closer as they search for answers to the mysterious lockdown, enraging Marguerite's ex, Ray, who is also trapped in Blind Lake. Jackie Cassada, in an article for Library Journal, found Blind Lake to be "a taut SF suspense tale."
Wilson teamed with Marc Scott Zicree for the conclusion to the latter's "Magic Time" trilogy in 2004. In Magic Time: Ghostlands, Cal Griffin leads a band of misfits across the country in search of the Source, the cause of a disaster that plunged the universe into a dimension where magic replaces modern technology. The group plans to hunt down and destroy the evil that caused this catastrophe while Cal frantically searches for his sister, who was lost during the Change. In a Booklist review, contributor Paula Luedtke called Wilson and Zicree's collaboration "a powerful, intelligent, deeply human … wrap-up volume."
In Spin, Wilson confronts a terrifying "what if" hypothesis when all of the stars in the sky suddenly burn out one night in front of the eyes of young Tyler Dupree and twins Diane and James Lawton. As the friends grow up and apart, the truth becomes clear. The planet is caught in what comes to be known as "the spin," which causes time on Earth to move much slower than the rest of the universe. In the time it takes for one day to pass on Earth, one-hundred million years have passed in outer space. By Tyler's fortieth birthday, the sun will have burned out, leaving the planet barren and the human race extinct. Racing against time, Tyler desperately searches for a way to save his friends and humankind. In an article for the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, writer Michelle Sagara called Spin "Wilson's finest work to date." Indeed, the novel won that year's coveted Hugo Award.
Spin's sequel, Axis, brings the action to Equatoria, a planet apparently designed for humanity by the Hypotheticals, mysterious machine intelligences that have developed a life-extension technology that is illegal on Earth. Lise Adams arrives on Equatoria to search for her missing father, a scientist determined to crack the Hypotheticals' secrets. Lise hires Turk Findley, a pilot with a criminal past, to help her find her father. As strange mechanic ash falls from space and covers the surface of the planet, Lise discovers that her ex-husband, a Department of Genomic Security employee, is spying on her; at the same time, a top-secret experiment has created Isaac, a child who has been rendered capable of communicating between humans and the Hypotheticals.
A writer for Kirkus Reviews considered the novel "equally engrossing and exasperating" because of the many elements it leaves unexplained. Booklist reviewer Regina Schroeder, however, lauded Axis as an "absolutely, abundantly marvelous" book that "conjures humanity after an event so strange it's almost unimaginable." Expressing similar admiration for Axis, Locus contributor Gary K. Wolfe concluded: "Rather than take the expected route of dazzling us with more and bigger billion-year perspectives and alien machines like we saw in Spin, Wilson has chosen depth over expansion, and the result is arguably what a middle novel in a trilogy should be, adding weight and density to the narrative instead of merely offering a place-holding intermezzo for the fireworks to come."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Twentieth-Century Science-Fiction Writers, 3rd edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1991.
Analog, September, 1987, Tom Easton, review of A Hidden Place, p. 181; July, 1988, Tom Easton, review of Memory Wire, p. 178; May, 1993, Tom Easton, review of The Harvest, p. 131; November, 1998, Tom Easton, review of Darwinia, p. 133; February, 2000, Tom Easton, review of Bios, p. 132; December, 2001, review of The Chronoliths, p. 134.
Booklist, December 15, 1992, review of The Harvest, p. 718; April 1, 1994, review of Mysterium, p. 1426; August, 1997, review of A Bridge of Years, p. 1892; May 15, 1998, John Mort, review of Darwinia, p. 1608; August, 2000, Roland Green, review of The Perseids and Other Stories, p. 2126; July 1, 2001, Bryan Baldus, review of The Chronoliths, p. 1993; August, 2003, Roland Green, review of Blind Lake, p. 1969; December 15, 2004, Paula Luedtke, review of Magic Time: Ghostlands, p. 716; March 15, 2005, Regina Schroeder, review of Spin, p. 1276; September 1, 2007, Regina Schroeder, review of Axis, p. 65.
Bookmarks, January-February, 2008, review of Axis, p. 40.
Books in Canada, March, 1993, review of The Harvest, p. 35.
Bookwatch, April, 1993, review of The Harvest, p. 3.
Chronicle, April, 1993, review of The Harvest, p. 29; February, 1994, review of The Harvest, p. 28; June, 1995, review of Mysterium, p. 36; December, 1998, review of Darwinia, p. 49; December, 1999, review of Bios, p. 41; August, 2001, review of The Chronoliths, p. 34; July, 2003, review of Blind Lake, p. 34; June, 2005, Don D'Ammassa, review of Spin, p. 31.
Globe and Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), November 22, 2003, review of Blind Lake, p. D22.
Guardian Weekly, May 14, 1995, review of Mysterium, p. 29.
Kirkus Reviews, May 1, 1998, review of Darwinia, p. 621; June 15, 2000, review of The Perseids and Other Stories, p. 841; November 1, 2004, review of Magic Time, p. 1032; January 15, 2005, review of Spin, p. 90; August 1, 2007, review of Axis.
Kliatt, July, 1994, review of Mysterium, p. 20; March, 2001, review of Bios, p. 27.
Library Journal, November 15, 1992, review of The Harvest, p. 104; March 15, 1994, review of Mysterium, p. 104; August, 1999, Denise Dumars, review of Darwinia, p. 176; July, 2003, Jackie Cassada, review of Blind Lake, p. 132; November, 15, 2004, Jack Cassada, review of Magic Time, p. 55; September 15, 2007, Jackie Cassada, review of Axis, p. 54.
Locus, November, 1992, review of The Harvest, p. 17; February, 1993, review of The Harvest, p. 57; June, 1993, review of The Harvest, p. 56; April, 1994, review of Mysterium, p. 17; June, 1994, review of The Harvest, p. 60; December, 1999, review of Bios, p. 21; September, 2000, review of The Perseids and Other Stories, p. 21; November, 2000, review of The Perseids and Other Stories, p. 15; September, 2007, Gary K. Wolfe, review of Axis.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, July 29, 1990, review of The Divide, p. 6; January 5, 1992, review of A Bridge of Years, p. 4.
Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, April, 1993, review of The Harvest, p. 30; March, 1999, Robert K.J. Killheffer, review of Darwinia, p. 35; June, 2000, Michelle West, review of Bios, p. 41; October-November, 2005, Michelle Sagara, review of Spin, p. 54.
MBR Bookwatch, April, 1993, review of The Harvest, p. 3; January, 2005, Harriet Klausner, review of Magic Time.
New York Times Book Review, May 28, 1989, Sharon Oard Warner, review of Gypsies, p. 18; February 11, 1990, Gerald Jonas, review of The Divide, p. 29; October 27, 1991, Gerald Jonas, review of A Bridge of Years, p. 30; December 27, 1992, Gerald Jonas, review of The Harvest, p. 22; July 10, 1994, Gerald Jonas, review of Mysterium, p. 30; July 12, 1998, Gerald Jonas, review of Darwinia, p. 26; December 3, 2000, review of The Perseids and Other Stories, p. 88; September 2, 2001, Gerald Jonas, review of The Chronoliths, p. 14; July 7, 2002, Scott Veale, review of The Chronoliths, p. 20; December 7, 2003, review of Blind Lake, p. 86.
Prairie Fire, summer, 1994, review of Mysterium, p. 239.
Publishers Weekly, November 18, 1988, Sybil Steinberg, review of Gypsies, p. 71; November 9, 1992, review of The Harvest, p. 80; March 7, 1994, review of Mysterium, p. 67; May 11, 1998, review of Darwinia, p. 55; July 31, 2000, review of The Perseids and Other Stories, p. 76; June 16, 2003, review of Blind Lake, p. 55; November 29, 2004, review of Magic Time, p. 27; January 31, 2005, review of Spin, p. 53; August 6, 2007, review of Axis, p. 173.
Quill & Quire, April, 1988, Kim G. Kofmel, review of Memory Wire, p. 23; April, 1990, Pippa Wysong, review of The Divide, p. 25; March, 1993, R. John Hayes, review of The Harvest, p. 49; March, 1994, Michelle Sagara, review of Mysterium, p. 70; July, 1998, review of Darwinia, p. 33.
Science Fiction Chronicle, April, 1993, review of The Harvest, p. 29; June, 1995, review of Mysterium, p. 36; December, 1998, review of Darwinia, p. 49; December, 1999, review of Bios, p. 41.
Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), October 27, 1991, review of A Bridge of Years, p. 6.
United Church Observer, October, 2005, Paul Fayter, review of Spin, p. 48.
Voice of Youth Advocates, June, 1993, review of The Harvest, p. 106; October, 1994, review of Mysterium, p. 228; October, 1998, review of Darwinia, p. 291; April, 1999, review of Darwinia, p. 16; June, 2000, review of Bios, p. 107; April, 2002, review of The Chronoliths, p. 16.
Wilson Library Bulletin, September, 1989, Gene La-Faille, review of Gypsies, p. 117.
Curled Up with a Good Book,http://www.curledup.com/ (July 3, 2008), Midge Bork, interview with Wilson.
Locus Online,http://www.locusmag.com/ (March 8, 2006), "Robert Charles Wilson: Alternating Worlds."
Robert Charles Wilson Home Page,http://www.robertcharleswilson.com (July 3, 2008).