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Robert Charles Wilson
Tor Books, 208 pages

Robert Charles Wilson
From his first novel, A Hidden Place (1986), through to his latest, Robert Charles Wilson has written a number of entertaining books. They include Darwinia (1998), Memory Wire (1987), Gypsies (1989), The Divide (1990), A Bridge of Years (1991), The Harvest (1992) and Mysterium (1994) -- the latter winning the Philip K. Dick Award. Most reviewers compare his work to that of Clifford Simak.

Robert Charles Wilson Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Chronoliths
SF Site Review: The Perseids and Other Stories
SF Site Review: Bios
SF Site Review: Bios
SF Site Review: Darwinia
Robert Charles Wilson Tribute Site

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Donna McMahon

In the 22nd century mankind has discovered a method of interstellar transit that is allowing us -- albeit slowly and expensively -- to explore the galaxy. One planet of great interest is the lush, beautiful world Isis, with a rich, complex ecosystem that looks deceptively similar to ours, but it is utterly deadly to Earth-evolved DNA.

So far humans have only been able to explore this world via sterile bunkers, remotes, and armoured excursion suits, but young Zoe Fisher is part of a new initiative. She has been genetically engineered to explore Isis, and equipped with an advanced biotech membrane suit that will allow her to walk outside almost naked. What Zoe doesn't know is that the local bacteria have been mutating until they are ready to destroy the Earth substances invading their world.

Robert Charles Wilson has done a very solid job of world-building with Isis, and his teams of scientific explorers are credible. He also has a potentially strong protagonist in Zoe. But unfortunately this book never comes together. What starts out as an apparent exploration/adventure story with a political twist, mutates into The Andromeda Strain-style bio-disaster, and ultimately succeeds neither as an adventure nor as a disaster novel.

From a structural viewpoint, the big problem with Bios is that it is overwhelmingly plot-driven, and Zoe is simply carried along by events, rather than making decisions or taking actions which shape those events. Worse, Wilson develops Zoe's background, her bio-alterations, and her relationship with the ruthless, powerful "Families" who control Earth, but then he abandons all of these plot threads as the disaster picks up momentum. Finally, the disaster itself lacks impact because the characters aren't deeply developed, so the reader is apt to simply shrug as the death toll mounts.

Wilson may be making some sort of existential statement by having an entire cast of characters whose actions have no effect on anything at all, but it certainly doesn't make for a satisfying read.

Copyright © 2002 Donna McMahon

Donna McMahon discovered science fiction in high school and fandom in 1977, and never recovered. Dance of Knives, her first novel, was published by Tor in May, 2001, and her book reviews won an Aurora Award the same month. She likes to review books first as a reader (Was this a Good Read? Did I get my money's worth?) and second as a writer (What makes this book succeed/fail as a genre novel?). You can visit her website at

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