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Burning Paradise    by Robert Charles Wilson order for
Burning Paradise
by Robert Charles Wilson
Order:  USA  Can
Tor, 2013 (2013)
Hardcover, e-Book
* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Robert Charles Wilson is renowned for such excellent and unusual SF as Spin, Julian Comstock and Darwinia. Now he stretches his imagination again in Burning Paradise.

It's 2015 and nineteen-year-old Cassie and her twelve-year-old brother Thomas have lived under the radar with their aunt Nerissa ever since aliens murdered their parents in 2007. They and most other members of the Correspondence Society (scientists and scholars) were massacred overnight. But these aliens are not your typical BEMs, but rather an active, living hypercolony inhabiting the radio-reflective layer around the Earth. And this is not our world. It has had no Great Wars - the hypercolony manipulate human behavior with generally benevolent results. But with what goal?

Cassie is home alone with Thomas, when she sees a pedestrian (who had been watching their building) hit by a car on the street - the dead man leaves a mess of blood and 'a syrupy green fluid' on the street, and that fluid indicates that he was a hypercolony simulacrum. Cassie wakes up Thomas and, as planned for this kind of emergency, they flee to a fellow Society member, Leo Beck. Beth Vance, another Society teen, is with him, and all leave Buffalo together, heading west to find Leo's father.

At the same time, a simulacrum approaches the isolated farmhouse of Cassie's uncle, Ethan Iverson. He captures it. It claims to 'represent an autonomous parasitical network that has infected the hypercolony and is struggling to control it.' This simulacrum offers to help Ethan 'prevent a humanitarian catastrophe.' After Nerissa (who had come seeking her niece and nephew) joins him, they also seek - and join - Leo's father, Werner Beck.

As the younger folk travel (and survive various violent encounters) Cassie grows close to Leo. They don't find Leo's father but do join up with Eugene Dowd, an adventurer who works for him. Both parties head south, aiming for the Atacama Desert in Chile, where the hypercolony has constructed a facility as its reproductive mechanism. Beck wants Ethan to sabotage it, but Nerissa doesn't trust him. All she cares about are her niece and nephew.

The story builds to a violent crescendo of action, with surprises at every turn. Nothing is what it seemed to be and Ethan must make a very difficult choice, one that will change his world forever - for 'Everything has a price.' Burning Paradise, SF with hints of horror, is an unusual and intriguing tale.

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