Thursday, September 11, 2008

Book Review: Darwin's Radio

I just finished reading "Darwin's Radio" by Greg Bear. I picked it up at the Friends of the Arlington Library Book Sale because I'd noticed it on the shelf in book stores so many times. I moved it to the top of the pile when the Politics & Prose Sci-Fi and Fantasy Book Club started reading it. Alas, they moved the date of the meeting without letting the general public know. So half way through this book got shuffled to the Now Reading pile. I just finished it about two months after I started.

Well, the book club hated it. But then I think they quite enjoy hating things. Makes for much more interesting conversation than "I thought it was quite good." "Oh, yes. Splendid book. I'll have to recommended it." "Hmmm, yes." "Quite." "Yes." "So..." "..."

I didn't hate it. It's just not the sort of thing you want to read when discovering a new author. The technical aspects are quite accurate. The end rather predictable. And it stretches out for too long (says the man who took two months). Most of my complaints are similar to those of people who hated Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. No, I don't mean the book contains Jar Jar. I mean that the major plot is just bickering politicians and scientists. There's a bit of action when the police come for our heroes a time or three. Now, some books are good because of the technical ideas they present. But it's not like we even get new technical data as we move through the book. Just great coverage early on and then bickering.

I suppose I should mention what it's about.

The idea is that instead of gradual evolution over time like Darwin suggests we undergo extreme cases of punctuated evolution like Steven Jay Gould said. But while Gould meant it happened in a few hundred short years this book suggests that the new genome develops in what appear to be junk DNA and when it perfects the new model of species it expresses itself. The first version might not work so the DNA has several variants on a theme and goes through them until one works.

The story starts with lots of women getting pregnant but suffering from a stillbirth and finding that their baby is some sort of deformed cyclops thing. A month or so later they find they're pregnant again with the child of the cyclops. Early versions are born dead.

Some scientists think that this is a new stage of evolution based on some remains found in a mountain cave. Others think that this is some ancient virus that has been hiding in our genes and is trying to manifest in these new babies.

Naturally, the people of the world decend into panic and superstition. Martial law is declares, pregnant women are rounded up, the whole nine yards.

It's not a bad story. I think this would have made for a better movie or mini-series.

For other reviews of Greg Bear's work see also my reviews of:
   Moving Mars

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