by Greg Bear
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Greg Bear has long been a writer of hard science fiction, and his latest, Darwin's Radio, full of speculations on the human genetic code, is a hard science fictional examination of biology. The novel ties the remains of a Neandertal family found in the alps to a modern massacre in the small Georgian (Asian) village of Gordi to a strange disease, Herod's flu, which appears to only strike sexually active women and results in abortions.
Bear's tone fluctuates wildly between simple explanations of biological principals and complex discussions which feature terms such as "lysogenic phages," ""endogenous retrovirus," and "movable elements." Although Bear includes a glossary to explain some of the more complex and scientific terms, the novel itself suffers from the need to include passages which destroy the flow of the narrative. The majority of the fault for this lies in Bear's selection of such a complex and cutting edge science.
One of the weaknesses of many "hard" science fiction novels is that the science is included at the expense of characterization. Unfortunately, Darwin's Radio falls subject to their weakness. Kaye Lang's relationships with Saul and Mitch Rafaelson never seems to exist beyond the professional level despite the emotional tangles which Bear would have them involved with. Bear does manage to include several interesting characters, ranging from Christopher Dicken, a researcher with the CDC to the Champions, a Native American couple who challenges the scientific community. Unfortunately, many of these characters are used as foils rather than being allowed to become fully realized characters or storylines.
Darwin's Radio is an excellent example of the speculation which drives so much science fiction. Bear does a fantastic job of presenting the scientific information (even if he does, at times, aim above the level of the casual reader). If he could have created characters as realistic as his science, Darwin's Radio could have been an instant classic.
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