on July 4, 2003
What seems, at first glance, like a simple adventure story in Robert Charles Wilson's "Darwinia" is actually anything but simple -- something you will learn as the book leads you deeper and deeper into a complex, rich, and hauntingly beautiful story.
"Darwinia" takes place in a world left reeling after Europe was transformed over night into a foreign and unexplored wilderness. The story follows the journey of Guildord Law who explores this new world and learns about the land and so much more.
The charecters in the book are vivid and you will come away feeling that you know each of them. It is science fiction at its best, full of surprises and powerfully written. One can't quite say enough about this book!
on May 6, 2004
It seems like there are more and more books where part of the Earth is mysteriously changed overnight. S.M. Sirling's Islands in the Sea of Time and Wilson's own Mysterium come to mind. In all of them that I have read, you simply accept this change as part of the setting of the story. Darwinia is different, in that the main character wants to find out why the change occured, and much of the story is dedicated to explaining that change, and this was why I liked this book better than I expected.
The story was pretty slow at the beginning, and I almost gave up on the book. However, once Wilson started to explain how the change happened, it got much more interesting, if not much faster. I enjoyed the characters in the book, particularly Gulliford Law, who is curious about what happened to cause the change in the Earth, but once he finds out, wants nothing more to do with it. As I mentioned, the story is kind of slow, but I think it is worthwhile.
I have read several books by Wilson, and they have never been quite what I was expecting going in, but I have enjoyed them all. I would recommend this book, and will look to read more of Wilson in the future.
on December 5, 2002
"Darwinia" is an eerie, frequently fascinating tale that takes place after Europe is suddenly and mysteriously transformed into an uncharted no-man's land. Guilford Law, a photographer drawn by the continent's enigma, takes part in an expedition to its interior, facing evolutionary mysteries and paradigm-toppling revelations. Wilson is one of the genre's most appealing and overlooked storytellers, and "Darwinia" is a canvas of cosmic scope. Unfortunately, the ending is something of a letdown after the initial build-up; "Darwinia" reads as a paleantological thriller unsuccessfully fused with a virtual reality shoot-'em-up, complete with interdimensional mutants and bullet-proof avatars. Edgar Rice Burroughs meets "The Matrix."
on February 8, 2003
'Darwinia' is really a tale of two halves. The book as which it begins is charming, mysterious, and deeply entertaining. Somewhere near the novel's midpoint, a plot pivot appears which transforms the novel into something *entirely* different. To say it was 'unsettling' to this unsuspecting reader is an understatement; however, sticking with it proved to be rewarding nonetheless. The reviewer who described 'Darwinia' as Edgar Rice Burroughs meets 'The Matrix' is dead on target, with maybe a sprinkling of Lovecraft's Old Gods thrown in for good measure. 'Darwinia' has a strange disequilibrium to it, and it is definitely difficult to categorize - but that isn't necessarily a bad thing. It's not a five-star book , in my humble opinion, but it is still a thoroughly enjoyable novel. It's a smart, interesting read unlike anything I've seen before.
'Darwinia' is the first writing by Robert Charles Wilson I've read. He definitely impressed me as an author worth seeking out, and will appear on my reading list again soon.
on January 23, 2002
"Darwinia" establishes Robert Charles Wilson as one of the outstanding writers in contemporary SF. The Europe of 1912 is replaced by a strange, alien wilderness containing previously unknown forms of plants and animals and no sign of civilization. Religious fundamentalism bubbles to the forefront in the wake of the "Miracle" as most people believe that God sweep the old center of Western civilization out of existence because of its iniquity. Some people see inconsistencies in the theological explanation and seek alternate explanations based on science and logic. Guilford Law, the protagonist of the novel, is drawn into the latter camp and ultimately reaches a stunning explanation of the true nature of the "Miracle".
Wilson's technical writing skills are excellent. He draws a haunting picture of this strange world that was Europe. Wilson creates appealing characters with depth using a mature and well-crafted writing style. The characters behave rationally in this irrational world. Most importantly, Wilson thoroughly understands contemporary history and creates a series of events in the post-"Miracle" world that are both logical and reasonable. For instance, the obliteration of the British home islands leads Lord Kitchener to set up a rump government operating out of Ottawa that seeks to retain the claims of the British Empire. This is precisely what Kitchener, the hero of Khartoum and victor of the Boer War, would have done. A brief naval war erupts between the US and the British rump government that the Americans easily win. This fits with the deployment of the major forces of the Royal Navy in British home waters in 1912 to counter the growing threat of the German navy. With these forces gone, the American navy would have been easily superior.
As the story unfolds, Wilson's tale is not one of a peculiar 20th century Earth history. Darwinia is a story of the history of the universe. Wilson uses some very imaginative speculation in creating an original and daring story. Darwinia is far from the usual alternate history tales common to SF. [reader's reference- my personal five star novels: Dune, Hyperion, Ender's Game]
on July 26, 2001
I felt this book started strong, it had captured my imagination and felt it was leading to exciting discoveries. When more is revealed I was dissappointed but thought after a strong start Mr. Wilson would take it to more interesting heights. He just didn't appear to know where is was going with it and it wandered and floundered, the characters weakened and it fell apart. Very inconsistent in parts...I don't ask for everything to make sense in Sci-fi but you have the responsibility for making it plausible in the plot/setting. DCS
on August 27, 2001
At the beginning of the twentieth century, the continent of Europe is replaced (yes, replaced) by a wild, uninhabited version complete with un-Earthly flora and fauna. This is the jumping off point for a twisting, "What is reality?" story that aspires to be a cross between Philip K. Dick and William Gibson. Unfortunately, it's just a bit too head-scratching.
on August 13, 2002
Overall impression: An interesting idea, but not a very entertaining book.
First off, let me admit I'm not a huge follower of alternate history SF. Therefore, this is not my favorite sub-genre, and I am therefore less forgiving of other narrative problems.
As you've probably read from the synopses above, this book is about when one day in 1912, everyone looked around and found that all of Europe had been replaced by a jungle wilderness. Since it was a stable ecology, all we could figure is that it was some transplant from some other alternate Earth, somehow.
We find out in the book that the actual events are even stranger.
However, I didn't really LIKE the alternate events. It was all too much of major events happening offscreen by vast powers too incomprehensible to explain. While I liked the main viewpoint character of Guilford Law, I thought he was too whiny to really become important to me. Other characters came and went too choppily for me to really identify with.
If you like fiction with a vast (and I mean VAST) scope, you may like this better than I. If you like to engage emotionally with your fiction, you probably won't like it either.
on January 21, 2002
I thoroughly enjoyed the first half of this book. I won't rehash the basic plot - you can read the synopsis above and many of the other reviews for that. I was completely enthralled by the mystery of what had happened to the old Europe. I had absolutely no idea what to expect. And then, the first of several "interludes" jolted me from the alternate 1920 to the millions-of-years-from-now far future. It was a bit disorienting and didn't really seem to connect to the story thus far except for a few hints that didn't make sense until they were explained much later on.
Don't get me wrong, I finished the book and did enjoy it. Guilford Law is a very likeable character and if the plot requires a more-than-average amount of suspension of disbelief, it is still worth reading. But the story doesn't flow smoothly, the transitions are awkward, and the reality of what is happening, when revealed, is a bit cheesy. Take it out of the library, but I wouldn't spend the money. I'd give it 3 1/2 stars if I could.
on December 8, 2001
"Darwinia" is one of the most unusual books I have read. It starts out in 1912 with the complete and mysterious disappearance of Europe and the British Isles. In place of the Old Europe is a new Europe which is shaped similarly but which is unpopulated by humans and contains an alien flora and fauna. Guilford Law is a boy when this event takes place and is fascinated by it. By 1922, the US is in the throes of a religious revival, the world is in an economic depression, and what to do with the "new" Europe is a subject of politcal controversy. Law, now a young man, joins an expedition to explore the interior of the new continent, leaving his wife and daughter in "New" London. What follows is a pretty good adventure as Law and his companions trek through the alien wilderness while his wife stumbles into a relationship with a soldier in "New" London.
Suddenly, about a third of the way through, the scene shifts and the reader is confronted with a galaxy "collapsed into its own singularity" where "noospheres" meet "in million-year cycles to exchange knowledge and to create hybrid offspring, metacultures embedded in infant noospheres dense as neutron stars." The upshot of this is that all sentient history/experiece has been accumulated into an "Archive" of incomprehensible magnitude. The purpose of the Archive is to preserve all knowledge, but it is under attack from what can perhaps best be described as computer viruses blindly attempting to alter or destroy the stored data. Much of this aspect of the story is dense and obscure.
Subsequent to this revelation, the story changes dramatically, taking on a bizarre nature. Law meets his alter ego, who actually died in France in WW I on the original earth. This alter ego tries to enlist Law in the "war" against the "evil" virus entities.
This is a very odd story. The latter part is much different from the first part, and the connection between Earth and the Archive, as well as the nature of the Archive and the war going on in it, are never adequately explained. Indeed, much of the story struck me as very dark, and it reads like a horror story. It was relatively fast-paced and I got through it pretty quickly, but I was less than satisfied with where it had taken me by the time I got to the end. I can't honestly recommend it to other readers, even though some parts were entertaining enough. I'm sure some folks will like it, but proceed at your own risk.