Through a Door Darkly: Kate Wilhelm

I haven’t reviewed a straight-up science fiction novel for Luna Station Quarterly since my first blog post, so this month I chose The Dark Door, by Kate Wilhelm, as read by the great Anna Fields. Wilhelm, you might know, is the author of the Barbara Holloway mystery series and the Hugo Award-winning novel Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang. She’s a multi-genre master, with a gift for genuine dialogue, humor, and suspense. Her books are that sweet-spot combination of character and story, and she’s definitely got an affinity for the speculative, even in her mystery fiction (see, for starters, Death Qualified). Whether she’s writing about clones or chaos theory, I appreciate her commitment to science and rationality – no hand-waving for Wilhelm. And no boring info-dumps! I’ve noticed too that even when her novels are from, say, 1988 (like The Dark Door), they never feel dated.

The Dark Door is a tense, smart sci-fi thriller along the lines of Dean Koontz or Daniel Hecht’s Cree Black novels (which Anna Fields also narrates). This is the second book of the Constance and Charlie Mystery series, but I fell right into it without having read the first book. The premise is this: an alien portal of neurological evil (yes, that’s what I said) keeps appearing in abandoned wooden buildings in isolated American towns – and seems to drive good citizens to madness and rage. A tormented survivor of the dark door teams up with Charlie and Constance Meiklejohn to investigate and destroy the alien probe.

Charlie and Constance are the best part of the book, no surprise. This is a novel that’s definitely for fans of The X-Files and Fringe, because the plot revolves around the investigation into an artifact not of this earth, and its disastrous affect on humans. But like the story arc of Mulder and Scully or Olivia and Peter (or hey, Astrid and Walter!), The Dark Door is a portrait of a happy partnership between two equals – two people who love and respect each other and work wonders as a team. And when our beloved heroes are in danger, we feel it all the more.

The narration by Anna Fields was flawless. She also reads the audiobook Death Qualified, which I listened to years ago and enjoyed, so I can attest to her consistency. Her strong, authoritative voice is both rock solid reliable and comforting. Her delivery and pacing are perfect – especially with a book that’s heavy on back-and-forth dialogue laden with all degrees of intellectual discourse, emotion and humor. I love the way Fields distinguishes the many male characters (and I have to note here that in a book with mostly male characters, it’s pretty sweet that Constance is the ultimate hero).

Anna Fields is the stage name for Kate Fleming, chosen by Fleming in honor of her great-grandmother. Whenever I write these reviews, I do everything possible to contact the audiobook readers for an interview. I love hearing about their work and their thoughts on women’s speculative fiction. I was heartbroken to find out that Kate Fleming passed away in 2006 at the age of 41. Tragically, she drowned in her basement recording studio during flash flooding in the Pacific Northwest.

I recommend listening to everything from her back catalogue, which you can find here. She was a rock star. I believe future generations of vocal talents should study the audiobook recordings of Anna Fields, to learn how it’s done.