Book Review: Darwin’s Radio by Greg Bear

I picked this up as it is highly recommended on a lot of “Top sci fi books” from around the blogosphere. Having never read a Greg Bear, I thought it best to start with what most consider his greatest work. So what’s my verdict? Is it worth the hype? Does Bear deserve the reputation as a thrilling science fiction writer?

Two sets of burials: one a mass grave in Georgia (the one in Europe, not the USA) and dated to the Soviet era. A group of people have been executed and the women have each been shot in the stomach. Intriguingly, it seems that all of the females were pregnant at the time. The second grave site is a family of Neanderthals located in the Swiss Alps. Are these two incidents related? And if so, how so? In the modern day, a new STD is spreading all over the world. It infects pregnant women and causes them to miscarry during the first trimester. Men can carry the disease but are not affected by it, they display no symptoms but can and do pass it on to their girlfriends, wives and daughters. Most weirdly, a number of these women become pregnant almost immediately after their respective miscarriages – not weird in itself but most are swearing they have not had sex since their miscarriage. What’s more, it seems women who have had chicken pox, shingles any other STD are not experiencing spontaneous re-pregnancy.

Most of the world’s scientists are concerned that it will lead to massive drop off of the human population as we slowly succumb to a disease and they are working in a race against time to discover the source and the nature of the disease and looking for a cure. Yet others are not so convinced that this is a disease at all. What is their alternative theory? I’m not going to spoil that part just in case they may very well be right.

If you like your science fiction confined to the lab, to the researchers and a story to develop through conversations, conferences and through public discourse then this is the book for you. This is science fiction with the emphasis on SCIENCE as it is done in the lab. In this way, it is very much like the classics such as John Wyndham’s The Midwich Cuckoos and Michael Crichton’s The Andromeda Strain. In fact, those are pretty good comparisons so if you enjoyed those you will certainly enjoy this. But it is not a page turner and the endless conversations do get a little tiring. Tighter editing would have made this a far more engaging work.

The writing style is subject-appropriate and it flows as well as can be expected. However, Bear does use some incredibly strange phrases. The second sentence of the first chapter compares the sky over the Alps to “a dog’s pale and crazy eye”… oh dear. Strange descriptions really grate on me but thankfully they are few – these sort of narrative descriptions are clearly not Bear’s strong point. An interesting book nonetheless that blends evolution and philosophy.

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