Science fiction and fantasy
by Greg Bear
The biologist Kaye Lang and paleontologist Mitch Rafelson are amongst the first to discover what is about to happen. Mitch climbs with a small group to a cave in the Alps, where they discover a well-preserved prehistoric family. But this family don't look as normal for people of that era, and their manner of death suggests that the evolution of man did not happen in the way we had believed. The scientific theory is intriguing, although it's certainly not a consensus theory of evolution.
Meanwhile Kaye is investigating an apparent genocide in the Caucasus, and she finds that the dead women have all been stabbed in the stomach. The authorities are not terribly co-operative, and it seems as though there is a conspiracy to cover up the truth. As the book progresses, however, further unusual cases come to light across the globe, and they become harder to sweep under the carpet. It becomes Kaye's job to figure out what they all mean, helped by Christopher Dicken from the Centre for Disease Control. To add to it all, both Christopher and Mitch have the hots for Kaye, so there's a love-triangle thingy going on too.
As main characters Kaye and Mitch are well-rounded and engaging, and it's good to see that character development hasn't been sacrificed just because a bit of scientific theory has been added to the mix.
The science is at times difficult and can be off-putting for those not too familiar with genetics, but it doesn't overwhelm the story. If you haven't the faintest idea what a retrovirus is, and I didn't, you can still enjoy this. My one criticism is that it takes the characters overlong to realise what is obvious to the reader from early on, and it might benefit from reaching its inevitable conclusion a little sooner.
Nevertheless it's not too saccharine an ending, and I recommend it for a good, thought-provoking read.
If you like this, try:Evolution by Stephen Baxter
This is the epic story of the primates, as they evolve from tiny mammals into the humans who would shape and dominate the world, and beyond.
Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon
In the near future, someone has invented a cure for autism. But is this really a good thing for the last autistics?
Review © Ros Jackson