on June 12, 2004
The sequel to the considerably better Darwin's Radio lacks much of interest - the injection of recent understandings of the possible role(s) of viruses in evolution aside.
The topic matter at hand truly could lend itself to very interesting story-telling, but in this text Bear does not seem to push hard enough. What it lacks is a penetrating insight needed to take expository texts into the realm of worthwhile fiction.
Also, I think that a chief problem in the plot arcs is that they do not cohere very well. Much is left out and context is often absent, with the result for me being that I really didn't follow the story - as it were - too closely. I found myself skipping/skimming over large portions of the text.
The "science is good" in the text, sure, but the "science is good" also in Scientific American. In the SF genre, good science absent good ploting means, ultimately, a less fruitful yield.
What perhaps irks me the most is that the actual payoff of the text is so asymmetrical with the tout & hype.
Put another way, if this is considered "masterful" science fiction, then we are in a dark period of science fiction writing. My view is that the science fiction genre, emblazoned as it used to be with irreverance and occasional iconoclastic brilliance, is now almost completely subject to creativity-dampening strictures of political correctness. Bear's work is almost a monment to P.C. in writing.
Put anoyther way: P.C. and S.F. are utterly incompatible. Since the publishing industry will not publish those texts which do not jibe with current notions of what's P.C., and since the American readership is evidently so docile and easily pleased, then we may predict an extended dark age for the SF genre.
However, to give Bear proper credit for not being completely P.C., he does engage the issue regarding the peopling of the Americas. This contribution to the discourse alone made me bump Bear's work up from two to three stars. All praise be the vestigial remnants of independent thought!!!
on March 21, 2004
Ah, the wonders of on-line communication! This is my third attempt to write a review of this novel. The first was submitted, acknowledged, but lost, the second disappeared when I attempted to edit it before submission. So this will be shorter than the other two I wrote, as it's starting to get old now. However, I did want to highly recommend both Darwin's Children, and its prequel, Darwin's Radio.
Both novels make use of an iconoclastic theory of evolution in which elements of the "junk DNA" found in humans as well as other creatures responds to stresses in the environment by bringing about changes in the genomes of the species'off-spring. When these human up-grades are born in increasing numbers, society reacts with predicable fear and panic. The children are removed from their parents, who are oftentimes not told where they are, or what's happened to them, and forced to live in concentration-camp type "schools", where they grow to adolescence in a society which seems to resent their existence. At first, there are legitimate fears that these children may harbor dangerous viral diseases; later the policy is continued for reasons of political expediency.
Both novels follow the main protagonists Kaye and Mitch, who, with their daughter Stella, one of the Homo Sapiens Novus, struggle to keep their family together, and to bring about a more humane societal response to the new humans in their midst.
The books, which should be read one story, are informative, suspenseful, and very moving. In my opinion, the story as a whole is Bear's best.
on March 18, 2004
I'm writing this review of Darwin's Children, but it actually applies to both that work, and the one preceeding it, Darwin's Radio. Both are great science fiction stories that go beyond the genre, and would interest fans of human-interest fiction as well. The novels deal with an iconoclastic evolutionary theory (turning out to be right in the story, of course) which challenges the neo-Darwinian scenario of a slow process of natural selection taking place over eons. In the new theory, very briefly, portions of the "junk DNA" in organisms, including humans, can respond to sufficient stresses in the environment to bring about a new genotype in the off-spring of a species at a very rapid rate. The story deals with the effects on society and the individuals involved, when increasing numbers of these upgrade humans are born.
The trauma faced by society as a whole, who's leaders mistakenly believe that these children pose a disease risk to the society, is exceeded by that of the parents, who find their children forcibly taken away from them, often without any follow-up word on where they are, or what their condition is. And the new children themselves have to deal with a world that seems to resent their existance, forced into concentration camp type "schools", and kept there even after evidence clearly indicates there is no danger, for reasons of political expediency.
The two main characters, Kaye and Mitch, and their daughter Stella, one of the Homo Sapiens Novus, contend with forces seemingly beyond their control, trying to keep their family together, and to help bring about a more humane response to the new type of human being in our midst. The story,again including both books, is genetically informative, suspensful, and very moving. Get both books and read them as a single work. I highly recommend both of them!
on February 22, 2004
I read the first book. Like, read it, on paper. I enjoyed it. So, on a whim, I picked up the sequel to Darwin's Radio on the iTunes Music Store. Boy, it was just awful.
First off, the person reading the book is trying way too hard to do all kinds of voices -- latina women, black women, old men, old women, young girls -- and detracts entirely from the flow of the book. It's very difficult to be paying attention to the book itself when the narrator keeps speaking in tongues.
As for the book itself, the plot is much more like a romance novel. Thin, lacking detail. Plot devices are cliche and predictable. About half an hour into this book, I knew exactly what was going to happen, simply by the way the author laid things out.
It seems to me that the ending of the first book left a lot open. Sometimes, that's a good thing. It leaves the reader to chew on what the author is trying to convey. It allows open-ended thought on the subject. In the case of Darwin's Radio, this is definitely a good thing.
However, it also seems that this book was some compulsory thing Mr. Bear did because there was .. I dunno, need from his readerbase to "finish the story"? This is clearly the work of small minds. To take these characters off into all these spurious thread-cleaning-up adventures at the expense of the reader's time and money is just criminal.
Sometimes, well enough is well enough alone.
If you must read this book, borrow the paper copy. The audiobook is not worth the time or money, and the book isn't either. At least the paper won't be attempting some inflected southern accent.
on January 23, 2004
I read and enjoyed Darwin's Radio and gave it a good review. Before reading Darwin's Children I read the reviews on Amazon and generally found them discouraging. (why did I miss the good ones that I now find ? who knows). Never the less I pressed on and read it. True to the reviews that I had read I found the bio detail oppressive and skipped it as I largely done with Radio. But the unlike Radio I found that not only was I losing the thread of the story, I was also losing the will to continue. Do you know someone who thinks they know more than you, but rather than communnicating at you're level really delights in talking above your head using language that they know you won't understand. You must do, the world's full of such people. This seems to be Greg Bear. I struggled to page 255, one of the bodies is "gravid" !!!!. I have a wide vocabulary but had to guess at this one, is it a common term in the US, not in the UK. Next page "stone soup. Merton looked puzzled. Eileen explained stone soup. How colonial" She didn't explain to me, and I would have liked her to. I can find other examples, too much of this finally annoyed me. Bear's use of language excludes the reader rather than includes and this can't be good. I don't want him to limit himself to single sylables (see my spelings naf) but common usage would be nice. Forgive my ignorance
Writing a trilogy presents writer and reader alike with a dilemma. The writer must try to make each book, especially the middle book, stand alone. Yet he must also carry the underlying narrative through the story and lead to the final volume. Readers, particularly new ones, must take the risk that the second volume is worth the investment in time and money. Bear marginally succeeds in making this book stand on its own merits by giving us sufficient background threads as the story progresses. Thankfully, he doesn't use tedious flashbacks to achieve this end. Reprises are helpful to the new reader, but can be hopelessly boring to someone who's read a first volume. This compelling speculation on how evolution might work carries over from the previous volume, Darwin's Radio. It isn't necessary to have read the first volume, but it simplifies the understanding of the characters.
In this sequel, the life of the new generation of SHEVA "virus children" is portrayed. The children discover what it means to be "different" in American society. They learn how vicious a reaction to the different can become. The SHEVA children are shunted out of sight in camps the Nazis would have envied. Among these children growing up in such an environment is Stella Nova, offspring of two of the key figures in the earlier book. Like the other children, she remains a fugitive, even when living at home. Children as outcasts is one of the greatest forms of tragedy, and Bear is adept at the portrayal.
Bear weaves the feelings of both child and parent with sensitive skill. Isolation of the SHEVA children, as it's done with other children in similar situations, results in a new identity. New feelings and a new language develop both from the children's isolation and from talents their genetic heritage grants them. They have powerful senses of smell - they use pheromones as a form of communication. These all combine to create a fresh sense of community in the children. They form "demes" - an incipient social structure. How will the new groupings relate with the previous society is a question Bear opens, but doesn't resolve. Partly this is due to the SHEVA children's youth. Although some are close to maturity, the new arrangement is only beginning. Self-awareness of differences, however, is strong. Stella Nova forcefully declares to her parents, "I'm not like you!".
As outlandish as this may sound, Bear's science foundation for this story is impeccable. While he's careful in a "Short Biological Primer" at the end of the book to identify what's known and what is speculation, it's clear nothing here is implausible. The results of an extensive literature search permeates the book - sometimes in overwhelming detail. Do we really need to know how many different compounds can be used to re-hydrate a mammal?
That specious criticism aside, there is much value to be gained reading Bear's "middle volume" in this trilogy. The social issues are combined with business concerns and, of course, the political realm. What will be the legal position of children tucked away in concentration camps? More to the point, what is the mental make-up of the new children? One of the major characters provides a hint through a series of epiphanies she experiences. There seems to be a strong need for speculative fiction writers to re-introduce us to gods, and Bear is following this pattern both in the plot and in a "Caveats" essay concluding the book. It is mildly astonishing that such an issue is likely to form the basis for the third book. However, the question is left dangling so precipitously at the end, it must be resolved somehow. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa,
on October 11, 2003
This is one of the best science fiction novels I've read. It is thrilling and intellectually charged. It's no standalone, though. The plot and characters are certainly independent of the previous novel, but the background in Darwin's Radio is essential to nonbiologists trying to understand what's going on. The plot is superb as well as the characterizations. Geneticist Kaye Lang, archeologist Mitch Rafelson and their daughter, Stella Nova, have been hiding from an increasingly repressive U.S. government that wants to put the so-called "virus children" in what are essentially concentration camps. Eventually, the family is captured, and when Mitch resists he's arrested on a trumped-up charge of assaulting a federal officer. You become so thrilled and caught up in the plot that you want to speak out to the characters to help them in some of the situations. This is an excellent novel, and the writing is superior in the sci-fiction genre. Highly recommended read and a definite library keeper.
on August 17, 2003
Darwin's Children is the sequel to the Nebula winner and Hugo nominee Darwin's Radio, and like its predecessor, it is a dense, demanding, disturbing, fascinating novel. It's not an easy read, however: it's crammed with acronyms and scientific jargon, and the SHEVA children, with their enhanced senses, often speak in their own language. A scientific glossary, a short biological primer, and a non-fiction reading list are hidden at the back of the book (and I mean that; I didn't discover them until after I'd finished reading the story), but you may find that referring to these punctuates your equilibrium.
Bear also shifts viewpoint characters so frequently that it's sometimes difficult to keep track, especially if you haven't read Darwin's Radio. If you're expecting X-men, you may be disappointed; there is some violence, but little in the way of pyrotechnic action. The tone is more reminiscent of The Hot Zone, gene-spliced with political thriller.
Darwin's Children doesn't pull its punches when it comes to politics: a horrible disease is compared to House Republicans and vice versa, and the only out-and-out villains who appear in the book are a senator and a television commentator. Bear is also scathing in his depiction of religious fanatics, bureaucrats, talk radio, and the capacity of Americans en masse (though not usually as individuals) to be intolerant, gullible, complacent or savage to the point of attempting genocide. His scientists are more sympathetic, though never flawless - even Augustine, skilled as he is at the underhanded political games that help him gain power, believes that what he is doing is necessary for the greater good. All the major characters are well realised, and all change slowly but believably: some even evolve.
Darwin's Children is demanding, but it's also gripping, sometimes frightening, often thought-provoking, and well worth the effort of reading.
Following on from Darwin's Radio, where a virus creates possibly the next step in evolution of the human race, Darwin's Children takes off with the children beginning to grow and America's biggoted reaction to them. From the point of view that this book seems to be mirroring America's increasingly inward focus on life, I wonder how much of it was actually a comment on society by Greg Bear?! Especially as he keeps this book so America-centric, its only in the faintest hints that we learn the rest of the world doesn't have these problems with the new children - so why all this desperate work in America to find a cure for the virus? America could have just sat back and watched the rest of the world assimilate the virus and seen what happened to total integration of the children anyway???
Unlike many of the previous reviews given, I wasn't so satisfied with this book. Darwin's Radio was a strong book with Bear putting forward the concept that mankind evolves in leaps and bounds rather than gradually, a not impossibly theory. However, after one incredibly suspenseful book, Bear gave his new evolved humans what I would deem to be regressive evolutionary characteristics - or at least, ones which I wouldn't think we needed to survive in today's world!
So, given his new humans have some strange new talents which aren't necessarily essential to survival on this planet, Bear is left to pick up the pieces and focus instead on how homo sapien Americanus accepts (or not) the new race. This book is more character driven which in part I would say would have to be because there was no where else to go. However, there were a lot of characters, with parts which drifted into loose threads which weren't tied up, but their meaning was so vague its more an itching annoyance than leaving crumbs for a third book. Bit like a movie sequel with strong charaters from the first movie appearing as cameo's in the followup.
And finally, I understand what Bear was getting at with his little plot line with Mitch going back to archeology, but it would be VERY hard for archeologists to piece together Bear's new humans from bones because apart from being taller (and gawd knows, with improved nutrition, even the smaller Asian races of today are producing basketball players over 7ft tall, and thats not deemed evolution...), they essentially have soft tissue adaptations instead. Now THAT would have been a nice area for Bear to explore as I suspect that is seriously under thought about in the realm of archeology!
In summary, the book is a good read, at least initially, as you don't know where Bear is going. But in the end, its so cliched and so predictable, you wonder where the energy went.
on July 8, 2003
Darwin's Children is the second novel in the Darwin series, following Darwin's Radio. In the previous novel, the CDC discovered a viral disease that caused miscarriages followed by another pregnancy without the introduction of any male sperm. Called Herod's flu by the CDC, researchers soon discovered that it originated as an HERV (Human Endogenous Retrovirus); that is, the virus was produced by each male's own cells and then passed to their mates. Renamed SHEVA (Scattered Human Endogenous Viral Activation) and soon vulgarized to "shiver", this disease also caused a few women who had xenotransplants to continually produce a variety of deadly viruses. The deaths from these cases triggered an intense fear reaction among certain xenophobic segments of society, which lead to the formation of EMAC (Emergency Action) to handle the situation.
Kaye Lang had played a primary role in the identification of the virus and the discovery of the shedding mechanism. Mitch Rafelson had made the archaeological discovery that SHEVA had been active in ancient times, producing Homo sapiens sapiens from Homo sapiens neandertalis. Their work brought them together and resulted in Kaye becoming pregnant with Stella, a SHEVA child. When public reaction became hostile to these children, Mark, Kaye and Stella went underground like many other families with SHEVA children. Others, however, turned over their SHEVA children to the care of EMAC, who put them in special "schools". One such "school" was attacked and the children slaughtered by nearby residents, so the other schools were fortified to protect the children.
Mark Augustine was the former director of EMAC, but has been re-assigned after the slaughter and is now the director of all federally operated SHEVA "schools". The incidence has haunted his conscience, for he was one of the politicians that had fanned the flames of fear and so has to share the blame for the deaths.
Christopher Dicken is still a virus hunter for the CDC, but now he walks with a limp and has only has one eye due to a bomb planted in the White House by a fanatic. He regularly visits Mrs. Carla Rhine, whose body produces mutated, and often deadly, viruses as the result of an interaction of SHEVA with her pig kidney transplant, and who is now held in maximum isolation. Dicken is ordered by HHS to meet with his former boss, Mark Augustine, to consult on a new virus which is killing SHEVA children.
Normally, SHEVA children are very healthy and are never infected by normal childhood illnesses; consequently, some state-controlled SHEVA "schools" have had most of their medical supplies transferred to other agencies. Now the children are becoming sick and some have died in various "schools" across the country. At the Joseph Goldberger School in Ohio, many of the staff have fled, the National Guard has encircled the grounds and are keeping the public out, hundreds of children are dead, and the medical supplies are scant. Augustine and Dicken go to the school and try to organize the remaining staff and students to provide essential support. Augustine has arranged for more medical supplies from federal sources, but the state is trying to block delivery. The school does have a fully equipped virological research lab, so Dicken starts taking samples and running tests.
In the meantime, Stella has run away from home. She is convinced that her parents don't understand her, but that other SHEVA children will. Unfortunately, she encounters a bounty hunter, who locks her up with several other SHEVA children, one of whom is sick and later dies. Kaye and Mitch track down the bounty hunter and call the state troopers with a kidnapping charge. The troopers arrive just before the EMAC team that has come to retrieve the children. Mitch and Kaye are allowed to take Stella home with them, but the other children are taken by EMAC.
Since Stella has caused them to blow their cover, the family flees yet again. However, Stella becomes sick on the journey and they have to call a doctor to treat her. When the doctor examines Stella, he forgets to deactivate his automatic upload to the medical authorities, EMAC discovers their whereabouts, and the family has to escape once more.
This novel continues the story of a new species of humanity that is being persecuted by a very frightened population. Since the SHEVA children have readily discernible differences from Homo sapiens sapiens, they become the victims of casual discrimination and abuse. Moreover, there are also groups trying to implement a "final solution".
Nonetheless, the SHEVA children do have some friends, both underground and public. The story describes several efforts to support and protect the children. On the other hand, the hostile groups have begun to implement measures that are abhorrent to most citizens and Augustine, in particular, is waiting to bring these practices to public attention.
This novel also adds a theological component. Kaye begins to have periodic epiphanies and MRI tests indicate that a portion of her brain related to suckling in infants has been activated. Kaye never receives verbal input from the Caller, but does receive strong emotional input. Moreover, the Caller never influences Kaye's decisions, but is always supportive. Frankly, I get the impression that the Caller is a group mind of galactic or larger scope and that it promotes maximum diversity through free will. Trust the author to insert a few speculations about the endpoint of evolution.
Highly recommended for Bear fans and anyone else who enjoys tales of medical and anthropological research in a SF setting.