Robert Charles Wilson, 2005

Hugo Winner - 2006

Premise: Tyler, Jason, and Diane are watching when the stars go out. They grow up in a frightening time when the Earth is subject to mysterious outside forces.

I read this book years ago, and l remember liking it then. I can't remember whether it took me a while to get into it the first time, but this time I was bored and impatient with the first half. (All 2020 book reviews should come with a big notice that the reader's reactions may or may not be typical.)

The story bounces back and forth between Tyler undergoing a mysterious illness and his recounting of his childhood and life up to that point. I was somewhat bored with the beginning: his crush on Diane and the early story while the world was being established. This was partially because I remembered just enough about the final reveals, and without the mystery, the book held little tension. Additionally, I was turned off by Diane herself and thus the narrator's obsession with her was worthy only of eye-rolling.

However, once the plot picked up in the second half, I did enjoy it again.

The sci-fi elements are interesting and well-handled: time bubbles, terraforming, von Neumann probes, biological reprogramming. The human story is about living under a believable threat of doomsday and how that affects people. Tyler, Jason, and Diane are kids when a probable deadline for the planet's destruction is discovered. Tyler tries to help individual people (studying medicine), Jason tries to use science and politics to save the world, and Diane joins a fringe religious cult, although her initial impetus has to do with making the world better as well. Jason and Diane's parents represent more internally focused reactions: the quest for personal power and the quest for personal oblivion. Pretty dark stuff.

By the end, the world and many of the characters have been transformed, and the ending is fundamentally hopeful, I'd say. (Despite governmental and other forces seeking to keep people from discovering or taking advantage of certain technology or opportunities.)

I'm not thrilled with the only major female character spending the book fundamentally weak and foolish until she's rescued by the hero (and then functional and effective but offscreen). But Tyler himself is a wobbling insecure mess, and all the characters have enough nuance that it's not a fatal flaw for the story.

3 Stars - A Good Book


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