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Darwin's Radio [Paperback]

Greg Bear
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (44 customer reviews)

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Book Description

April 2003

Greg Bear's powerfully written, brilliantly inventive novels combine cutting-edge science and unforgettable characters, illuminating dazzling new technologies--and their dangers. Now, in Darwin's Radio, Bear draws on state-of-the-art biological and anthropological research to give us an ingeniously plotted thriller that questions everything we believe about human origins and destiny--as civilization confronts the next terrifying step in evolution.

A mass grave in Russia that conceals the mummified remains of two women, both with child--and the conspiracy to keep it secret . . . a major discovery high in the Alps: the preserved bodies of a prehistoric family--the newborn infant possessing disturbing characteristics . . . a mysterious disease that strikes only pregnant women, resulting in miscarriage. Three disparate facts that will converge into one science-shattering truth.

Molecular biologist Kaye Lang, a specialist in retroviruses, believes that ancient diseases encoded in the DNA of humans can again come to life. But her theory soon becomes chilling reality. For Christopher Dicken--a "virus hunter" at the Epidemic Intelligence Service--has pursued an elusive flu-like disease that strikes down expectant mothers and their offspring. The shocking link: something that has slept in our genes for millions of years is waking up.

Now, as the outbreak of this terrifying disease threatens to become a deadly epidemic, Dicken and Lang, along with anthropologist Mitch Rafelson, must race against time to assemble the pieces of a puzzle only they are equipped to solve. An evolutionary puzzle that will determine the future of the human race . . . if a future exists at all.

A fiercely intelligent, utterly enthralling novel of adventure and ideas, genetics and evolution, a fast-paced thriller that is grounded in the timeless human themes of struggle, loss, and redemption, Darwin's Radio is sure to become one of the most talked-about books of the year.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books; Reprint edition (April 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345459814
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345459817
  • Product Dimensions: 23 x 16.3 x 2.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (44 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 4,405,388 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

Greg Bear notoriously reworks traditional SF themes in his own special way. His first success, Blood Music (1985), features an intelligent plague which seems destructive but eventually recreates humanity in new, transcendent form--echoing Arthur C. Clarke's rough-hewn 1953 classic Childhood's End. Darwin's Radio revisits this territory but foregrounds scientific, medical and political reactions to disaster; it's reminiscent of a Michael Crichton technothriller. The menace is a "new" virus, SHEVA, which is in fact very old--embedded in a ancient human DNA sequences and now emerging as "Herod's 'Flu", which in pregnant women always forces miscarriage. Chillingly, US health aauthorities first see this threat as something to boost funding, while conservative scientists suppress research into the bizarre reality of what's happening. Evidence from Neanderthal remains and Stalin's mass graves hints that SHEVA is no disease but evolution in action. Human genomes everywhere, linked by the subtle network of "Darwin's radio", are activating Plan B: the creation of a new species. Then, with the world racked by panic, riots, death cults and martial law, SHEVA begins to mutate ... Tense stuff, though some biological info-dumps are tough going, and it's awkwardly paced towards the end when nine months are needed for the biologist heroine's own pregnancy, leading to... but that would be telling. This is a fearfully plausible scientific thriller. --David L Langford --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.


‘Whatever Bear touches turns epic… awesome momentum… rarely have I felt so much the presence of great events’
The Times

‘He has a soaring control of the language and dreams that belong to the visionary… Bear’s books map the future. They are required reading’
The Encylopaedia of Science Fiction

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Evolution by jerks? 15 Oct 2003
By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME
For those unfamiliar with evolutionary theories, there are two contesting ideas about the process. One is Charles Darwin's thesis of gradualism - successive generations change imperceptibly until a new species emerges. The other is "punctuated equilibrium" - long periods of stasis interrupted by sudden modifications resulting in new lifeforms. The latter, introduced by Stephen Jay Gould and Niles Eldredge - Jay Niles in Bear's book - has received a new, fictional boost in this compelling novel. Greg Bear has found out why the rise of modern humans in the paleoanthropological record. It's because a virus-like manifestation of our DNA causes immense changes in the genome. Discovering this, in a world where viruses such as AIDS makes rampant, high-velocity changes in its genome, is a formidable task.
Bear has restored a strong scientific base to "science fiction" where it has languished too often in the hands of the inept. He merges good biology with a strong assessment of a society under extreme stress. The characters are often buffeted by forces inadequately understood. The chief protagonist, Mitch Rafelson, opens the story as an acquisitive villain, his greed tempered by a desire to prove himself a valid researcher. On the feminist side [a must in today's fiction] is Kaye Lang - her married name which takes over forty pages to reveal - is also a scientist. Her work, unblemished, is considered Nobel material. Bringing these two together requires some convoluted machinations, but Bear manages to bring it off after a suicide and bureaucratic ineptness lead to the inevitable. They're an oddly matched couple, but two lonely people in the hands of a talented writer can overcome indominable odds. Especially when confronted by a powerful common enemy.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Believable and terrifying 15 Dec 2003
Darwin’s Radio is a pleasure for someone who loves hard science fiction, as I do. Here’s the premise: SHEVA, a retrovirus long-buried in our genes, suddenly awakens and begins to attack pregnant women, forcing them to miscarry after three months. But that’s just the beginning – after the miscarriage, these same women spontaneously become pregnant again, this time developing a fetus that’s not quite human. The federal government, led by the science establishment, after first denying the truth, then begins pressing parents to turn over their strange children to the government.
This premise just blew my mind; it’s creative, believable and terrifying. The science was complex and I referred to the glossary, included at the back of the book, several times. As I progressed through the pages, I was reminded of Beggars in Spain, Nancy Kress’s wonderful story. Both novels explore the rapid evolution of humanity into another species, although Greg Bear, unlike Kress, makes humanity involuntary travelers on the journey.
My major complaint is the slow pace. Too much time was spent on a romance between the two major characters. Even more frustrating was the endless politics between and among the scientific community and their patrons. Although Darwin’s Radio is science fiction and not a techno-thriller, more action – yes, a little violence, too – would have strengthened the brew.
The bottom line: a slightly flawed but thought-provoking tale.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A thought provoking tale about species identity 23 Nov 2002
"Something pops out of our genes and makes monster babies ... with a single huge ovary?"
So asks the incredulous United States Surgeon General in DARWIN'S RADIO, a fictional yarn of human genetics gone malevolently haywire. Or is it simply evolution leaving the path of gradualism as defined by Darwin and taking a more scenic route?
All good stories have a villain. In this case, it's SHEVA, a suddenly activated human endogenous retrovirus, i.e. one that resides in the "normal" genetic code on our chromosomes, that now forms infectious virus particles capable of lateral transmission between sexually active adults. What result are severe perturbations of the pregnancies of infected woman, and a bizarre skin condition that affects the faces of both parents. The world's best scientific minds can't stop it. And what is the connection between the mummified remains of a 40,000-year old Neanderthal family found in the Alps, and the corpses exhumed from a 10-year old mass grave in the former Soviet republic of Georgia, all of which contain SHEVA?
Despite being (just) a work of popular science fiction, DARWIN'S RADIO poses an interesting, alternative hypothesis to the widely accepted concept of Darwinian evolution, i.e. natural adaptation one genetic mutation at a time, and makes some perceptive inferences on the nature of the species self-identity built into the human psyche. Moreover, the main characters are reasonably well constructed, particularly Kaye Lang, the swim-against-the-tide geneticist, and Mitch Rafelson, the outcast anthropologist. However, the novel is, at 525 paperbacked pages, just a tad too long. As it was, the conclusion's "pay-off" didn't seem quite worth the time that I'd spent to get there. I wanted to be able to say "Wow!", but couldn't. However, a 4-star rating still isn't too shabby.
By the way. Do you have pronounced freckles on your face? If so, the Feds may be wanting to deport you to Iowa even now. Pack a lunch.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
The science used is in contradiction with our current knowlegde, so difficult to read seriously.
Published 1 month ago by Laurent Griot
5.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining read
Well written, quite gripping especially towards the beginning.The science is the best part. I didn't quite buy the character's motivations towards the end, but it didn't spoil the... Read more
Published 6 months ago by Austin Roberts
5.0 out of 5 stars another inventive and gripping read from GB
Talk about a page turner. For a book where the action is so spread out it was a real page turner. Sci fi at its best
Published 9 months ago by Steve Powell
5.0 out of 5 stars read it
found this book through a recommendation on my futurama wall calendar so thought if they like it it must be worth a look. It was, its a very thought provoking read. give it a go.
Published 14 months ago by mamer
3.0 out of 5 stars Original and gripping, but some faults with the writing
An original science fiction thriller, intelligently written and very gripping, set in the area of molecular biology and genetics. Read more
Published 15 months ago by BookWorm
3.0 out of 5 stars A good idea, but long winded
I found myself getting bored and a little frustrated with how long it took to get through the point of the idea of the story. Read more
Published 17 months ago by Peter Bailey
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book!
Well written and well researched. The ideas on which the story is based are as interesting as the story itself.
Published 17 months ago by Lugus Luna
5.0 out of 5 stars Disease or Evolutionary Sea Change
If, as some believe, evolution occurs in rapid bursts, how would humans know when it's happening to them and what would it look like. Read more
Published 18 months ago by sf_hound
4.0 out of 5 stars dust down your lehninger
Thouroughly enjoyed this novel - would make a superb mini series.
The genetics/biochemistry had me scouring the Web for explanations - thank the Lord I have a degree in... Read more
Published 21 months ago by rudyardx
4.0 out of 5 stars Sequel
Whilst I enjoyed the vast majority of this book it suffered from some parts of the plot being unnecessarily drawn out causing the story to lose momentum. Read more
Published on 14 Oct 2012 by Halo Reader
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