Darwin’s Radio, Darwin’s Children

Word count: 200

I spotted Darwin’s Children, the new sequel to Greg Bear’s Darwin’s Radio, in the library and decided it was about time to read them both. They were rather odd.

Darwin’s Radio is about a viral epidemic in more-or-less present-day America. The Good Scientists suspect they’re dealing with an unknown evolutionary mechanism about to punctuate our equilibrium, but the Bad Scientists insist that it’s just another disease and a very good excuse to increase the CDC’s funding.

Both the science and the politics are engrossing for a while, despite the annoyance of a Woman Scientist and her typical (for Bear) Bad Decisions. Woman Scientist spends the first section of the book angsting about her husband without ever making it clear what there is to angst about. This is a clear violation of the rule against creating false drama by hiding information from the reader rather than from the characters.

When his troubles finally come to the forefront, the husband does manage to create some legitimate drama. In another dramatic subplot, one of the good scientists goes bad. The novel bogs down when Woman Scientist runs off with Rebel Scientist and they decide to make beautiful Radio music together. While that’s fine as a plot twist, the ensuing chase and reproduction scenes are not enough to conclude the book.

But wait, there’s a sequel. In Darwin’s Children our favorite characters are back on the run because the Bad Scientists have tightened their grip on the country. Newly evolved children are locked up in state schools, where many of them succumb to yet another virus being broadcast over the versatile Darwin’s Radio. (That is the moment of interesting science, so don’t blink.)

After spending years on the run, Woman Scientist returns to work for the Bad Scientists in hopes of proving their theories wrong and hers right. The Bad Scientists are worried that Darwin’s Children will start transmitting on Darwin’s Radio once they hit puberty, so they start to do Bad Things. Eventually there is a rescue scene that might have passed for a climax, except that the book stumbles on after that.

The religious experiences of Woman Scientist were odd in that they didn’t seem to integrate into the plot. Though the new characteristics and culture of the evolved children were interesting in the abstract, they were neither explained in enough detail nor given any actual evolutionary justification.
The unexpected conversion of several Bad Scientists into Good Scientists worked well, though, except in the case of the Business Woman when she was tied into the religious subplot. The general defeat of the Bad Scientists could also have been a climax had it not been so tentative and off-stage.

I enjoyed the disaster-novel aspect of the viruses in both novels, but otherwise the present-day realism and wandering plot weren’t what I look for in scifi. If you liked Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy, then you may like these two.

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