Blind Lake is a near-future story that imagines a world where we have created powerful quantum computers without really understanding how they work or what, in fact, they might do. It also imagines that people will still print out copies of their email to read. :P
Author Robert Charles Wilson falls into the trap of trying to extrapolate near-future gadgetry and technology and having current technology (as of 2017) make the extrapolation look a little silly. While the quantum computers at the Blind Lake research facility that create video images of two distant worlds, one with sentient life, seem reasonably convincing–mainly because they are steeped in mystery–the references to “pocket servers” that all of the characters tote around feel outdated in a world overflowing with smartphones (the novel predates the iPhone by four years).
Still, the story, a combination of mystery and suspense on both human and cosmic scales, is well-told and builds convincingly toward a conclusion that slightly disappoints by feeling a bit disconnected, somewhat like most of the characters.
Those characters include a withdrawn eleven year old who sees a “Mirror Girl” that looks like her and may or may not exist only in her mind, Marguerite, the mother of the girl and a scientist who doubts herself and her ability to judge others after a failed marriage to a Ding Dong-munching and verbally abusive bully–who also happens to work at Blind Lake, a reporter named Chris who carries guilt over the role his book may have played in a person’s death. Nearly every character has some kind of emotional baggage and when the Blind Lake facility is sealed off from the outside world, with no explanation as to why, the various doubts, neuroses and obsessions escalate in parallel to the budding crisis caused by the quantum computers perhaps taking a little too much initiative.
In the end Blind Lake is a weirdly hopeful sort of story, albeit in an ambiguous way that may even lead to a sense of existential dread–as it does for at least one character. The detachment and relentless struggles of everyone is a bit wearying at time and Marguerite’s ex-husband Ray is an odd sort of pseudo-villain who never gets fleshed out enough to really resonate as well as he could.
Still, the escalation of tension and the unfolding mystery of both the observed alien race and just what the quantum computers might be doing, make Blind Lake worth visiting. Just be sure to leave before you feel the earth move. It’s definitely not romance.