March 04, 2005

BOOKS: Mysterium, Robert Charles Wilson (1994)

The town of Two Rivers, Michigan is the home of a mysterious government research facility. No one in town knows what it does, and its employees are intensely secretive; most of them live on the faciility's campus, and only come into town for supplies or the occasional movie.

But when the residents of Two Rivers wake up one morning to find that their town has somehow been transported to a parallel Earth, it's not hard to figure out that the research facility was somehow involved. Still no way to know how, exactly, since the facility is now surrounded by a dome of blue light, and everyone who was inside it is apparently dead.

Wilson does a solid job of setting up his story, and the tension between the folks from our Earth and the authorities of their new home -- a theocracy ruled by a version of Christianity that has multiple deities -- feels very real. His principal characters are very sharply drawn; 12-year-old Clifford Stockton is a particularly fine creation, a kid who behaves as a kid actually would.

It's a bit hard to believe that the residents of Two Rivers wouldn't be quicker to figure out what the local authorities have in store for them, or to rebel against the harsh control they're under. And the climax of the book is a muddle, with a bit too much mysticism and theological gobbledygook. But getting there is lots of fun, and the characters and relationships are involving enough to make the book worth reading.

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