Near-future psychological SF puzzler, from the talented author of The Chronoliths (2001), etc.
Far out in space, an array of detectors functioning as a single gigantic telescope captures images from planets circling distant stars; processed and amplified by quantum computers, the images show living detail. At Crossbank, one facility studies the watery world HR8832/B and its teeming, nonsentient life; Blind Lake spotlights UMa47/E and one of its intelligent, city-dwelling “Lobsters,” referred to as Subject. Astonishingly, after the detectors fail, the quantum computers effortlessly continue to capture images. Then, one day, Blind Lake finds itself under lockdown conditions; nobody and nothing, not even signals, may enter or leave. In charge by default is ambitious bully Ray Scutter. Also among those trapped is Ray’s ex-wife Marguerite Hauser, her daughter Tessa, and their involuntary lodger, whistle-blowing journalist Chris Carmody. Tessa has an invisible companion, Mirror Girl, who appears in reflective surfaces; clearly, she’s aware of something beyond the ability of adults to apprehend. Marguerite, impatient with the stiffly hands-off approach of the scientific studies, publicly calls for attempts to interpret the increasingly odd behavior of Subject. But as the lockdown extends into weeks and months, all Ray can come up with are cryptic hints of apocalyptic events at Crossbank. He becomes murderously convinced that to break the stalemate he must shut down the quantum computers. Another staff member, watching their Subject, somehow finds that he’s touching the creature. And Tessa, ever more disturbed and eerie, vanishes.
Fizzing with ideas while tightly focused on the characters: intense, absorbing, memorable work.