Monday, June 30, 2008

Darwin's Radio - A review

Darwin's Radio by Greg Bear

Darwin's Radio is a good read, though, a solid hard science fiction novel. From the cover and marketing campaign, I thought this would be a dyed in the wool thriller. Although it starts out with thriller elements (opening on eccentric characters in exotic locations looking at the bizarre pieces of a scientific puzzle), it doesn't maintain the pace of a thriller.

Not that this is a bad thing. The science is clearly explained and sounds plausible. The characters are complexly drawn, if a little uniformly cold for my tastes. The social events that arise from the crises our protagonists are dealing with (a mysterious disease affecting fertility) seem likely, given how hysterical people can get over reproductive issues.

The book is fun more because it is smart than because it is scary. Mr. Bear makes you curious and keeps you curious: first, about what's happening to the people, and then about what will happen to the world.

Though there is tension, this novel isn't so much about the tension. It's more about the science: how the author puts together a bunch of scientific fact into a very clever scientific possibility. There is no pulse pounding finish, but the main characters react to the "disease" catching up to them in a very human fashion: with curiosity and compassion.

For all the fun, Bear just leads you to a scientific possibility. No matter how convoluted, he doesn't take you past that... doesn't show you what a new "technology" really means to human beings or the nature of the universe. It's a sign of subtlety that he leaves you to speculate on your own, I guess... and a sequel definitely isn't required. I just think that a few ruminations of what this new kind of evolution means to the future of mankind would have been welcome.



This review was originally published several years ago on the Electric Well website. It has been edited for clarity.

Since I wrote this review, a sequel, Darwin's Children, has been published.

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