Darwin’s Radio might be the most engaging sci-fi book I’ve read in months or possibly years.
Although I had to fight my inclination to edit the book as I read (Bear gives lots of extraneous details that hinder rather than help, and has some clunky habits), the story was compelling enough to keep me reading at a rapid clip.
In present-day end-of-the-millennium, a massive challenge to the accepted theory of gradual evolution threatens the entire human population’s ability to understand itself. Bear’s managing to take such a high-level view of a medical crisis while focusing on only a few key players is a wonderful feat.
Scientists are by turns thrilled, baffled, supported and challenged, and they don’t have enough time to find answers under intense pressure from a pulsating bureaucracy. Politicians are interested in politics, not as much in science (or they might be interested in science, but sometimes only if it reinforces their career choices). The general public riots and evangelists have an interpretation party.
Given my recent rantings about people’s general inclination to believe what’s convenient even if it contradicts what’s true (see vaccination hysteria), I found this book to be thoroughly engrossing. Science is the clear winner, here.
The characters are compelling, though I wasn’t fully satisfied by the development of some. At times, Bear seemed lazy in his characterizations, and at others he approached the profound. I’d stop there, but I feel I must state this obvious bit: Mr. Bear, there’s not a chance in hell scientist protagonist Kaye Lang would, at any time, look fiercely into the eyes of someone threatening her and correct their address by saying, “It’s *Mrs.* Lang.” It’s Ms. Lang, no doubt. Or, if the correction must be made, it’s *Dr.* Lang.
There’s a sequel I hear isn’t as extraordinary, but I do plan to read it. For now, I enthusiastically recommend Darwin’s Radio to any hard sci-fi fan; anyone interested in evolutionary biology, genetics, anthropology, obstetrics, sociology or mob psychology; and folks who avoid sci-fi because they don’t like spaceships and funny names.
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