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Darwin's Radio
Greg Bear
Ballantine Books, 538 pages

Darwin's Radio
Greg Bear
Greg Bear was born in San Diego, California, in 1951. With a father in the navy, Greg Bear had travelled to Japan, the Philippines, Alaska and all over the US by the age of 12. At 15, he sold his first story to Famous Science Fiction and in 1979 he sold his first novel, Hegira, to Dell. His awards include Nebulas for his stories "Hardfought," "Blood Music" and "Tangents" and one for his novel, Moving Mars (1993), plus Hugos for his stories "Blood Music" and "Tangents." As an illustrator, Bear's artwork has appeared in magazines such as Galaxy and Fantasy & Science Fiction along with a number of hardcover and paperback books. He was a founding member of ASFA, the Association of Science Fiction Artists. He did the cover for his own novel, Psychlone, from Tor. Heavily involved with SFWA, Greg Bear co-edited the SFWA FORUM, chaired the SFWA Grievance Committee, served as VP for a year, and President for 2 years.

Greg Bear Website
ISFDB Bibliography
Review: Slant
Review: Dinosaur Summer
Review: Foundation and Chaos

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Donna McMahon

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Molecular biologist Kaye Lang, a specialist in retroviruses, works in an obscure corner of her field, so she is utterly unprepared for the tidal wave of fame that strikes when her work becomes the lynchpin of a battle against a devastating new disease. Pregnant women around the world are contracting "Herod's flu," a mysterious illness that severely deforms and kills fetuses. As public pressure and hysteria grow, the U.S. government enlists biotech companies and universities in a race to find a cure, with a reluctant Kaye recruited as their figurehead scientist.

While efforts focus on finding a vaccine, Kaye becomes more and more convinced that researchers are chasing a dead end. The key, unexpectedly, lies with Mitch Rafelson, a maverick anthropologist who discovered a mummified Neanderthal family. Mitch believes the Neanderthal DNA may contain evidence to prove that the retrovirus "SHEVA" is not a disease, but rather the next step in human evolution. But nobody is willing to listen to him.

Darwin's Radio starts out as an engrossing, fast-paced scientific detective story with well drawn characters. As usual in Greg Bear's novels, the science is strong and extremely detailed (and I REALLY could have used that glossary that I didn't find until I got to the end of the book). The near future settings are vivid, and Bear does an especially excellent job of depicting the biotech industry and its relationship with the American government.

Unfortunately, the end of this novel doesn't live up to its beginning, and Bear's problem is structural. Fundamentally this is two different types of stories sandwiched awkwardly together. What begins as a scientific suspense tale about the race to cure a disease, shifts suddenly to a different problem in new settings, narrated at a slower pace. Plot threads developed in the first half of the book are dropped or receive only perfunctory attention, and most characters, including one of the three protagonists, are virtually abandoned.

I can't comment in greater detail on Darwin's Radio without including spoilers, so I'll just say that I found both my suspension of disbelief and my patience wearing very thin in the concluding chapters of this book. And it was frustrating. Bear is an excellent writer. With a stronger ending, this would have been one hell of a book.

Copyright © 2002 Donna McMahon

Donna McMahon discovered science fiction in high school and fandom in 1977, and never recovered. Dance of Knives, her first novel, was published by Tor in May, 2001, and her book reviews won an Aurora Award the same month. She likes to review books first as a reader (Was this a Good Read? Did I get my money's worth?) and second as a writer (What makes this book succeed/fail as a genre novel?). You can visit her website at http://www.donna-mcmahon.com/.


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