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Darwin's Children
Greg Bear
Del Rey, 387 pages

Ben Perini
Darwin's Children
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
SF Site Review: W3: Women in Deep Time
SF Site Review: Eon
SF Site Review: Vitals
SF Site Review: Blood Music
SF Site Review: Darwin's Radio
SF Site Review: Slant
SF Site Review: Dinosaur Summer
SF Site Review: Foundation and Chaos

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Cindy Lynn Speer

It has only been eleven years since the SHEVA retrovirus first made itself known, but the impact has had terrible consequences. The most obvious of these is the children. The New York Times has christened them the Virus Children, and while they in themselves are not a problem as such, the actions their very existence causes may destroy the world.

The child we get to know best is Stella. She, like her fellows, is not human. Named Homo Sapiens Nouveau, they have evolved to the "next step" in intriguing ways. They have a wash of freckles across their cheeks, that change colors and positions, allowing them to communicate their emotions through color changes and deeper, more complex thoughts via the freckles changing positions. They have glands behind their ears that put out pheromones when they are in danger, scents that can diffuse a situation, or exacerbate it. They can smell emotions, and even what you've eaten the past day or so. For these beautiful, slender children, everything is part of a huge, new language, one that they must learn to read in order to survive.

No one seems to welcome these children. The government has been capturing them, training them in isolated schools. This isolation has served to make the virus children just seem stranger and more unacceptable, as humans, feeling threatened, step beyond simple prejudices and into murder. Just recently one of the schools, or camps, as they are called, was burned, two hundred children murdered, their guards just standing by. That's not the worst part. The children are getting sick, including Stella, which put her parents Kaye Lang and Mitch Rafelson into a very difficult position.

These two people were once at the forefront of the very research that discovered SHEVA. Once they discovered that they were going to have Stella, they fled, went into hiding to keep their daughter safe. But how can you keep a child safe when she doesn't want to be? Stella longs for her own kind, not feeling attached to her parents in that way, despite her love for them. Now that the authorities are after them again, and Stella is sick, what decisions will they have to make to protect their daughter?

Have you read Darwin's Radio? If not, then you should do so before plunging into Darwin's Children. Even though Greg Bear does a fairly good job of providing context, I still felt like I was really missing out by not having read the first book. There, the virus is discovered, and we probably learned a lot more about the whys of it. Nevertheless, what we learn in this book is rather chilling. We meet women who have become virus makers, such as Mrs. Rhine. Picture a nice, mousy woman, who has had a kidney transplant from a specially developed pig. It gave her a retrovirus that is usually only found in pigs. Her husband adds to this by passing onto to her the SHEVA virus. They combine, shift, grab some stuff from other viruses, and made her deadly. She killed her husband and seven other relatives before anyone could figure out what was wrong, and now she serves as a factory. In the last four months she's shed 700 new viruses; 52 of which are deadly to pigs, 91 will kill humans. And she's one of four women who have developed this ability. If that's not scary, especially in light of recent news, where humans are catching more and more exotic and rare diseases from animals (At this time, Monkey Pox and SARS are major headlines) then I really don't know what is.

Bear puts forth a really interesting set of concepts, none of the which are all that comforting, but are particularly realistic. He hasn't just come up with a theory and written it out, he's come up with a theory and played it from all sides, giving us a full spectrum of consequences, all of which are carefully supported with astonishing medical science. The idea that evolution is being sparked by viruses. These viruses are, in part, being brought back or created anew by our society and science is something that we should really consider. What Pandora's boxes are we opening with our new technology? When we delve into DNA and change things around and splice things in, what chain of reactions are we setting up? Are our good intentions truly paving the road to hell? Yet, as the world evolves do we have any choice? In some ways, I can't imagine not striving for these things. If we are lucky as well as wise, maybe we can find real cures for the diseases and other sorrows of this world.

What makes it worse is that you genuinely care for the people Bear creates.

Stella and the group of virus children, shunned by the world, are slowly creating their own; Kaye and Mitch, who are trapped between wanting what's best for their daughter and trying to help all of her kind; even Augustine, head of the very organization that is capturing these kids -- they all make you feel for them, as they are all faced with rotten choices.

Bear finishes up with a biological primer that will help grasp some of the concepts he introduces here, which is great because I enjoyed this book, even when I wasn't sure if I agreed (or, more likely liked) what he had to say. Ultimately, Darwin's Children is a mixture of tragedy and hope, a biological thriller that forces you to keep reading even as you try and decide what you think of the possibilities of what he's saying in the context.

Copyright © 2003 Cindy Lynn Speer

Cindy Lynn Speer loves books so much that she's designed most of her life around them, both as a librarian and a writer. Her books aren't due out anywhere soon, but she's trying. You can find her site at

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