Science fiction and fantasy


Darwin's Radio

by Greg Bear

Greg Bear is not a writer who shies away from hard science and difficult concepts, and none of his work could be described as light holiday reading. Darwin's Radio is no exception, dealing with genetics and a particular theory of evolution that suggests that changes took place in periodic jumps, rather than gradually over time.

Bear had me hooked right from the start as a terrifying tale of genocide and wierd happenings slowly unfolds. In a leap of imagination he shows us the human race changing, and builds a really convincing atmosphere of fear and horror as people react to these changes. Not since the Neanderthals have two species of humans coexisted.

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.

4 star rating

Review © Ros Jackson

Book Details

Decade: 1990s

Categories: Books
Science fiction

If you like this, try:

Evolution cover
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 cover
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?

Also by Greg Bear

Vitals cover
Who wouldn't want to live forever?

Dinosaur Summer cover
Dinosaur Summer
In this sequel to The Lost World, a young man and his father accompany a travelling dinosaur circus.

The Secret Eater