Audiobook Review: Vortex by Robert Charles Wilson

14 07 2011

Vortex by Robert Charles Wilson

Read by Scott Brick

Macmillan Audio

Genre: Science Fiction

Quick Thoughts: Vortex is a great conclusion to the world created by Spin, and while it may not be as engaging as its forbearer, it is a science fiction tale that will stick with you for a long time.

Grade: A-

I have been a fan of Robert Charles Wilson from the moment I pulled a dusty copy of Mysterium off the shelf at my local library. In all honesty, it’s been a bit of a rocky road with Wilson, for me. What I love most about him is his concepts. In Mysterium, a small town disappears of the face of the earth, and is transported to an alternate historic reality. This concept just sparked my imagination. The book read like a cross between Stephen King’s The Dome and SM Stirling’s Nantucket series. With each consecutive book, Wilson’s concepts never failed to enthrall me. Yet, the execution of those concepts was not always as engaging. I struggled my way through Darwinia, and found the Chronoliths a bit tough to take. Yet, with each struggle, also came a brilliant counterpoint, like Julian Comstock and Blind Lake, full of great science, wonderful concepts, and compelling characters. And then there is Spin. Spin may possibly be my favorite all time science fiction novel. Its images are mesmerizing, its characters compelling, and its concept mind blowing. Wilson returned to that world in Axis, which was a more intimate tale than Spin, and definitely a set-up novel. Now, Wilson has finished the tale that started with the stars disappearing from the sky in his latest novel Vortex.

Vortex revisits the character Turk Finley after the events of Axis. Finley has awakened on Equatoria, Earth’s “sister” planet 10,000 years in the future. He is eventually retrieved by a women who has been trained to be his interpreter/guide by a community that seeming worship the “hypotheticals,” the assumed super-race that are responsible for the many changes that had happened to Earth from the start of the Spin. Back in the 21st century, a Psychologist works with a young man, who has been seemingly channeling Turk Finley’s story, and has attracted the attention of some not so nice people. Wilson layers his tale between these two realities, slowly revealing the secrets of the hypotheticals, and the evolution of human societies that these beings have touched. Again, Wilson’s concepts are mind-blowing, yet the theme is one of the oldest known to man, what does it mean to be human. Vortex is full of all examples of humanity, exposing all the shades of gray that we live in between the black and white. While the future shown by Wilson is quite bleak, and often times maddening, he allows us to see that despite our species potential for destruction and ill reason, we also have the potential to do great things. That is truly the beauty of Vortex, Wilson shows through his flawed characters, that there are multiple paths humanity can choose, just as there are multitudes of paths the individual also can choose. One simple choice can be the difference between entropy and evolution. Vortex is a great conclusion to the world created by Spin, and while it may not be as engaging as its forbearer, it is a science fiction tale that will stick with you for a long time.

Surprisingly, this is my first audiobook listen narrated by Scott Brick this year. In the past, I have listen to plenty of Scott Brick, and he is an icon of audiobook narration for a reason, his style. Brick has a style of reading that in unique in the industry. Brick has the ability to turn the simplest of prose into poetry, simply through the rhythms and cadence of his speech. To be perfectly honest, his style doesn’t always work well with every audiobook, yet when it fits just right, it is an experience worth having. Scott Brick fits perfectly in Wilson’s high concept world. I will challenge anyone to listen to the last hour of Vortex without being moved by the combination of Wilson’s words and Brick’s narration.  You can always tell when a narrator is totally engaged in a reading, and Brick is definitely sucked into the story and in turn, sucks the listener in as well. There is always a bit of sadness when a loved tale comes to an end, yet, Wilson does his tale justice with a satisfying conclusion that answers your questions, and leaves you with hope for humanity’s future.