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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Enchanting Read
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...
Published on July 4 2003 by Sara Mangan

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Edgar Rice Burroughs meets "The Matrix"
"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...
Published on Dec 5 2002 by Mac Tonnies


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3.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic Premise with a Fatal Flaw, July 26 2001
By 
Rodney Meek (Austin, TX) - See all my reviews
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This novel has great movie pitch appeal. Its premise can be summed up in one sentence but is so unique and fresh and startling that it just jumps up and grabs you. The basic plot can be sold simply by stating: "In 1912, the world discovers that all of the civilizations and people of Europe have been replaced overnight by a primeval wilderness."
This bizarre transformation fuels the action of the first half of the book, as explorers from the United States and other unaffected areas begin to probe the mysteries of the vast and unpopulated depths of Darwinina, as the transformed Europe is now called. Needless to say, the balance of international power has been changed by the disappearance of most of the great nations, and the global economy has been sent into a depression. Because of its overseas empire, which remained unchanged, the English are able to re-establish a tenuous foothold in New London, which draws immigrants from Canada, Australia, India, and South Africa. Other countries, such as Germany, Italy, and France, are less fortunate due to their lack of colonies, and hence are easily bullied by the Americans.
The description of the events of one American expedition sent to probe the Darwinian hinterlands is fairly engrossing. This is Jules Verne and Edgar Rice Burroughs territory, vigorous pulp fiction with heroic explorers and uncharted depths and fantastic events, and even the mandatory lost city. But the reader's expectations are abruptly upset when Wilson pulls the curtain aside and reveals the truth behind the Darwinian miracle.
At this point, the novel becomes a weird fusion of "The Lost World" and "The Matrix", and the intimate human scale is lost. It becomes quite evident that the apparent conflicts in Darwinia are but the vaguest echoes of a far greater war which is beyond all contemporary human comprehension. Wilson should be given credit for his boldness, but unfortunately, this sudden change in tone plays quite poorly and the reader's connection to characters and events becomes singularly detached.
However, this is a noteworthy book simply for the sheer audacity and playful brilliance of the first half. The cover art is also gorgeous.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A good book, but not a classic, June 21 2001
By 
Kevin (Ann Arbor, Michigan United States) - See all my reviews
Darwinia has an interesting premise: Europe disappears overnight, replaced by a similar continent with completely different flora and fauna. The main character, Guilford Law, is part of an expedition to cross the Alps, or what _were_ the Alps, anyway... I liked the initial focus on Darwinia itself, and assumed that this would be a semi-hard-sf adventure novel about exploration. After all, the cover quote compares Wilson to Jules Verne and Edgar Rice Burroughs. A little less than halfway through the book, I found out that I was completely wrong. This book isn't even remotely similar to anything Verne or Burroughs ever wrote! I was disappointed at first, at least about the Verne part. (I was never much of a Burroughs fan.) However, this book did resolve itself into a good book, not the book I'd been hoping for, but certainly worth reading. My complaints about the novel are as follows:
<Warning: Spoilers ahead. Stop here if you plan to read the book.>
Several major things were never adequately explained. We never find out exactly where the psilife came from, where Darwinia came from, why the psilife built the city, or why the psilife would bother enslaving humankind instead of just destroying it. The (not-so) final battle never resolves--we eventually find out who won, but we don't actually see them win. Despite these shortcomings, Wilson's writing style manages to salvage the book. I'll definitely be looking into his other works.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Reality has been shredded., Feb. 9 2001
By 
This book was one of the few that resonated - and continues to do so - with me on a personal level. Guilford Law is the classic tragic hero, but with no definable flaw other than his sheer /humanity/ (which is later even called into question); caught up in events that he can neither control nor understand.
Law's experiences - and those of his comrades - left me more than a little unsteady at the finish. I couldn't wait to get to the end and finally capture the elusive resolution, but at the same time, I mourned the end of the book. Though I fully intend to re-read it, the uncertainty -- dare I call it suspense? -- has a magical quality that I doubt can be recaptured.
This isn't, however, a book that I would recommend to everyone. A fanatic of a single, specific genre, or even just two or three, would be unendingly irritated by the shifting theme. The novel is one of those rare few that spans across many genres, including historical fiction, surrealistic fiction, fantasy, metaphysical fiction, and hard science, in approximately that order. Some elements of horror might be present, but these are usually placed for dramatic effect or emotional impact. Wilson was never unnecessarily gruesome, but he didn't pull any punches either.
The reader must keep an open mind. Try not to begin the book with any preconcieved notions - including any that you pick up from this review. If one begins the book expecting any specific feel, tone, mood or message, they will be either delighted or bitterly disappointed when the novel completely fails to conform.
There will be people (there always are) who won't be surprised in the least, and they have my deepest sympathies. I found the journey, with all of its twists and meanderings into unexpected genres, a heady and moving experience.
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2.0 out of 5 stars THIS is something new? Not., Jan. 5 2001
By 
Kim Unertl "kimz0519" (Nashville, TN USA) - See all my reviews
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In my opinion, this book is neither science fiction nor is it fantasy. It seemed much closer to a horror novel with some sci fi elements and also elements of alternate history. In fact, because of the number of genres Darwinia manages to suck in, it's a hopelessly muddled tale.
I enjoy both fantasy and science fiction. I enjoy "softer" sci fi and hard sci fi. I even enjoy alternate histories. BUT, when they are all thrown together in one novel, it gets confusing and irritating. In addition, this book actually gave me nightmares because of the elements of horror novels that are incorporated.
I read a description of this author as a new star of hard science fiction based on the less than  of this book that is actually hard science fiction. What a shame that he is receiving accolades for this muddled drama when other more talented authors (Michael Swanwick jumps to mind) are being ignored.
If I step back and make an overall assessment of this book, it suddenly seems to be very familiar. In fact, in many ways, this book has the same plot as Stephen King's The Stand. Good vs. evil, lots of people wiped off the face of the earth, secret evil entities controlling infiltrators into the good side, a final conflict between good and evil, etc etc etc. If you're going to copy someone else's plot, you could be a lot less transparent about it.
Did I enjoy this book? Well, it was okay. There were certainly parts that were interesting. For a brief period of time, I was actually interested in what was going on with the main character. However, I would not recommend this book except possibly for those who enjoy horror novels.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating Look at a Changed Europe, Aug. 16 2000
By 
Richard R. Horton (Webster Groves, MO United States) - See all my reviews
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Suddenly in 1912 all of Europe changes: it is replaced by something quite different: a new ecosystem, lush but inhospitable to men. In the 1920s Guilford Law, a photographer, heads to the new Europe, now called Darwinia, to be part of one of the first teams to explore the interior of the continent.
All this is thoroughly intriguing and involving: then Wilson takes a hugely different tack. He reveals the nature of the changed Earth. Many readers have been disappointed by his revelation, but, though I admit the book we end up with is not the book we began with, it's still a wonderful book.
Guilford's life is forever changed by his trip to the interior of Darwinia, and we follow him as he dreams of another Guilford who lived in a very different Earth (apparently our own), and as he is drawn into a battle with evil forces who wish to destroy the world. Such a description sounds silly, but in context it's effective, and the story is beautifully written, and very odd. Guilford is a compelling character, and his life takes on great meaning: which is all the more important given the nature of his world.
A lovely book.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Wonderfully written, June 4 2000
Reviewing a book like Darwinia is very difficult. How you feel about it is very much dependent on your expectations going in. I originally picked up Darwinia because it was nominated for the 1999 Hugo award for best novel. My immediate impression was that I was reading the story of an expedition to the heart of a strange and terrifying land. This suited me just fine since I was captivated by the world Mr. Wilson created. If the story evolved into nothing more then an adventure, I would have been completely satisfied.
To his credit, Mr. Wilson has more in mind. Somewhere in the middle of the novel, the story evolves into a wonderfully written tale of duty and morality. Unfortunately, by then I was so caught up in the world of Darwinia, I found the evolution unwelcome.
Darwinia should not be underestimated. That I found the book in some way unsatisfying is my problem and not the author's. I can recommend this book simply on the strength of the prose. I hope future readers will expect more, they will not be disappointed.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Too much - and not enough!!!, July 10 1999
By A Customer
"Darwinia" has a lot to live up to. I read it purely on the strength that it has been nominated for a Hugo - and though it is an interesting and, in parts, highly enjoyable novel, there are others on this years shortlist more deserving of the prize.
The main problem with "Darwinia" is that it seems more like three or four books squashed into one. "Darwinia" is in part a story of "Lost World" exploration, part cosmic space opera, part ghost story, part horror-flick, part philosophy, part love story --- and so on. The novel is flawed because of the way all these elements are patched together - leaving the reader floundering with a jagged, disjointed narrative that sometime jumps from third to first person.
And just when you think "Darwinia" is settling into something you can get to grips with, the story mutates into something else. With many authors, this comes as a welcome suprise and bonus for the reader, but in "Darwinia" Wilson leaves us feeling unfulfilled and rather dissatisfied.
That said, Wilson's writing is engaging enough - the characters are likeable or not as the plot dictates and there are one or two very notable scenes. It's a shame though that the plotting of this novel does not match the quality of the narrative.
Read it by all means - but if this wins the Hugo above "Children of God" or "To Say Nothing of the Dog", I will be very surprised.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Good Concepts, Bad Fiction, March 13 2001
Let it first be said that Wilson's novel does contain a number of interesting concepts (that is why I gave this book two stars instead of one), especially ones pertaining to evolution, as the title obviously suggests. However, overall this book is a good example of stagnant fiction. The plot goes nowhere until probably page 200 in 360 page book. The author seems to be heavily influenced by the "Highlander." Moreover, the prose of this book is simply awkward, not to mention a number of anachronisms (the novel is primarily set in the 1910-1920s).It is more like a second rate Western than a science-fiction novel. In fact, the "science-fiction" part can be summarized in probably two pages. It is hard not to notice the heavy influence of Stephen King (and I mean the worst parts of Stephen King). Frankly, I am surprised that TOR would publish this nonsense. Overall, a disappointing read--not worth the time or money.
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3.0 out of 5 stars What happened?, Aug. 23 2000
By 
Walter R. Strapps (San Mateo, CA) - See all my reviews
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This book started off in a very interesing and exciting fashion, and wended slowly downhill from there, dropping completely off the precipice in the last 75 pages. The next bit may contain some spoiler information, so stop reading now..... Okay, you had your chance. Some of the characters in the book have counterparts from what we would recognize as our timeline, namely a Europe that fought WWI. I do not understand why the author has Americans manning the trenches in early 1917, why he does not have any Russian characters which would clearly have been very interesting, why there are no Canadian characters since they fielded about 700,000 men in WWI etc. etc. Admittedly, these are personal preferences. All in all, an interesting sci-fi novel, but by the end the talk about computer viruses and noospheres and other pseudo-scientific goobledy-gook detracts from the story, rather than adding to it.
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3.0 out of 5 stars After a slow start Wilson leapfrogs off the map..., Feb. 14 2000
By A Customer
This book is much better than the naysayers would have you believe but is disappointing to someone who wishes Wilson would return to the kind of personal writing found in his best work to date: "Gypsies". Still, "Darwinia" doesn't disappoint -- there are many surprises (thank the gods not just a rehashing of Jules Verne!) and some interesting characters. I'd have liked to see him develop Lily into a stronger character, but that's a small criticism. Intriguing idea that 'free-will' doesn't begin for humanity until the Darwinian invasion...what does this say about our own world, Wilson? "Darwinia" engages the imagination, and Wilson's writing is seductive enough to keep the reader turning pages. But I can't help wishing Wilson would give us memorable personalities like those of his first three novels. I wonder how many others feel likewise?
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Darwinia: A Novel of a Very Different Twentieth Century
Darwinia: A Novel of a Very Different Twentieth Century by Robert Charles Wilson (Paperback - Sept. 4 2007)
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