robert charles wilson and gypsies
I would put Robert Charles Wilson as one of my top five authors in any genre. I would put him at number one for being strangely low-key and under the radar for how good he is. The guy has put out some of the most accessible character-driven, high-concept science fiction for about two and a half decade; but he barely registers a blip even among the genre fans with whom I’ve spoken. I’ve gone as far as to give away my own copies of his easier to find books (Spin and Darwinia, in particular) to people hoping to get them to read his stuff. This is all made stranger by the fact that he’s actually very positively reviewed in the professional and semi-pro critics’ circles (the Indelible being JV).
In an attempt to complete my collection of RCW books, I looked for the out-of-print ones the old fashioned way, scouring the shelves of second-hand bookstores in at least six major cities over the past three years: Boston, New York, DC, San Francisco, Denver, and Nashville. I was relatively successful with the exception of two of his earlier works: Gypsies and The Harvest. After failing in Nashville this November, I relented and used the wondrous Amazon marketplace to complete my collection in time to read Gypsies over the winter holiday.
I wasn’t let down. A hallmark of Wilson’s work is stories about broken people. When I began reading his work with Spin, he had this motif more or less polished. In Gypsies, the plot revolves around three siblings (Laura, Karen, and Tim Fauve) who suffer from three particular fatal flaws that make them very broken people in their own ways. Oh, and they can all open doors into parallel universes. This power is limited by their flaws; for instance, one of the siblings can only open doors to parallel worlds that are distinctly dark and dreary; another can barely use it because of her flaw. Despite the fairly significant power and all the hokey possibilities that come with it, Wilson handles it with poise and grace. The story is really more about the flaws of those three characters, how they came about (daddy issues, mostly), and how the combination of those flaws affect Michael, the son of Laura, who also manifests the gift. Michael may seem like the focal point in the story (and some reviews I’ve read make it sound that way), but it is really less about him than the previous generation.
Within the story, the “ability” is often discussed as seeing “angles” and “dimensions” in the fabric of reality that others cannot see. I note this because it’s an interesting way to describe Wilson’s work in this novel and all of his other ones — you think you know what you’re going to get if you see the plot overview, but this author continually approaches his stories at angles unique among science fiction authors, adding some unforeseeable depth and dimension to his stories. His work, both in terms of ideas and character growth, is food for the imagination and sense of wonder shared by everybody, not just fans of science or speculative fiction.