“Burning Paradise” by Robert Charles Wilson

16059400Burning Paradise follows Cassie Klyne and various members of her family, who are members of a secret organisation that knows the truth about humanity’s history. They are in hiding; since Cassie’s parents and many more Society members have been killed for this knowledge, and it seems like a new round of killings is about to begin.

This book takes an interesting premise – a spacefaring alien hivemind has been subtly influencing human affairs, resulting in an alternate history where World War I never happened – and transforms it into an incredibly dull book. The characters are flat, and what personality they do display is unlikeable or some flavour of paranoid. The central conflict makes no sense; the human characters seem superfluous to the plot. The ending seems to have been intended to pack an emotional punch, but it just came across as nonsensical to me.

The aliens are supposedly intelligent but lack self consciousness (despite its ability to interfere with human communication with specific agendas and its ability to control human avatars that are indistinguishable from natural humans) – this is taken for granted and constantly touted by the scientist protagonist. Since this distinction is emphasised so much, and I figured a scientist wouldn’t be so certain about the nature of sentience so easily, I expected something to come of it, but all it seems to do is be a plot device to dehumanise the aliens to justify the characters’ hatred.

The other significant thing I disliked about this book was its portrayal of humanity as chomping at the bit to go to war, stopped only by missing telegrams and edited messages. I found it implausible and incredibly pessimistic. This view of humanity seems to carry to the individuals in this book too – like I mentioned, they were bland/boring at best and paranoid and unlikable at worst. Burning Paradise wasn’t a pleasant book to read, and it didn’t have anything else to redeem it, either.

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