“Mysterium” by Robert Charles Wilson (Tor, 2010)


Originally published in 1994, Robert Charles Wilson’s Mysterium went on to win the Philip K. Dick Award that year.  Released this year in a new paperback edition, it is the story of the discovery of a very strange artifact discovered beneath the ground in Turkey; no one has a clue what it is, and it kind of looks alien.  Once the US government gets its hands on it, they secret it away in a lab near Two Rivers, Michigan.  Everything returns to normal until the scientists decide to fire a large amount of radioactivity at the artifact and all of a sudden the laboratory, the entire town of Two Rivers and a perfectly concentric circle of terrain surrounding the town is transported to a parallel universe.

The residents of Two Rivers awake to find themselves in a foreign world, without power, with a whole new history, sociology, and system of government.  One other big difference in this world is religion, as the people practice a form of Gnostic Christianity, and as the main characters put the pieces together, it appears this world went a separate way to ours during the days of the Roman Empire, when no emperor chose to adopt Christianity.  Readers get hints that the rest of the world still practices Pagan, Greek and Nordic beliefs and religions in large numbers.  The problem is this world is very threatened by the sudden arrival of Two Rivers, its people, its technology.  The Proctors and their men move in and scrutinize the citizens of the town, watching their every move.  If laws are broken, then the people are punished; a number are executed according to the way s of this strange world.  Then a decision is made about what to do with Two Rivers; the question is what are the residents going to do about it?

For everyone who enjoyed Stephen King’s Under the Dome, you’ll find some similarities of the unknown in Mysterium, as Wilson takes on the subject of religion in a great what if that explores, probes and questions in the great way that good science fiction does, making the reader unavoidably question everything.

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Originally written on September 29 2010 ©Alex C. Telander.

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