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3.8 out of 5 stars
3.8 out of 5 stars
Darwin's Children
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HALL OF FAMEon 6 December 2003
Writing a trilogy presents writer and reader alike with a dilemma. The writer must try to make each book, especially the middle book, stand alone. Yet he must also carry the underlying narrative through the story and lead to the final volume. Readers, particularly new ones, must take the risk that the second volume is worth the investment in time and money. Bear marginally succeeds in making this book stand on its own merits by giving us sufficient background threads as the story progresses. Thankfully, he doesn't use tedious flashbacks to achieve this end. Reprises are helpful to the new reader, but can be hopelessly boring to someone who's read a first volume. This compelling speculation on how evolution might work carries over from the previous volume, Darwin's Radio. It isn't necessary to have read the first volume, but it simplifies the understanding of the characters.
In this sequel, the life of the new generation of SHEVA "virus children" is portrayed. The children discover what it means to be "different" in American society. They learn how vicious a reaction to the different can become. The SHEVA children are shunted out of sight in camps the Nazis would have envied. Among these children growing up in such an environment is Stella Nova, offspring of two of the key figures in the earlier book. Like the other children, she remains a fugitive, even when living at home. Children as outcasts is one of the greatest forms of tragedy, and Bear is adept at the portrayal.
Bear weaves the feelings of both child and parent with sensitive skill. Isolation of the SHEVA children, as it's done with other children in similar situations, results in a new identity. New feelings and a new language develop both from the children's isolation and from talents their genetic heritage grants them. They have powerful senses of smell - they use pheromones as a form of communication. These all combine to create a fresh sense of community in the children. They form "demes" - an incipient social structure. How will the new groupings relate with the previous society is a question Bear opens, but doesn't resolve. Partly this is due to the SHEVA children's youth. Although some are close to maturity, the new arrangement is only beginning. Self-awareness of differences, however, is strong. Stella Nova forcefully declares to her parents, "I'm not like you!".
As outlandish as this may sound, Bear's science foundation for this story is impeccable. While he's careful in a "Short Biological Primer" at the end of the book to identify what's known and what is speculation, it's clear nothing here is implausible. The results of an extensive literature search permeates the book - sometimes in overwhelming detail. Do we really need to know how many different compounds can be used to re-hydrate a mammal?
That specious criticism aside, there is much value to be gained reading Bear's "middle volume" in this trilogy. The social issues are combined with business concerns and, of course, the political realm. What will be the legal position of children tucked away in concentration camps? More to the point, what is the mental make-up of the new children? One of the major characters provides a hint through a series of epiphanies she experiences. There seems to be a strong need for speculative fiction writers to re-introduce us to gods, and Bear is following this pattern both in the plot and in a "Caveats" essay concluding the book. It is mildly astonishing that such an issue is likely to form the basis for the third book. However, the question is left dangling so precipitously at the end, it must be resolved somehow. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa,
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on 5 October 2004
"Darwin's Children" is a provocatively titled novel, dripping with menace and postulates the "what if?" scenario of a fictional leap in human evolution.
As serious scientific fiction, it is very well written. The prose flows well, the dialogue believable, the characters interesting and all representing a side in the debate of the ethics and emotions of the above scenario. All with a prevading sense of menace.
The fiction is based on generally established science and the book very helpfully provides a glossary for readers who do not have a science background. Though readers with degrees in relevant areas may today spot discredited ideas, it doesn't ruin the story which is about society within and without a new species of human. Uncomfortably, but bravely, the novel revolves around an inverted eugenic-panicked America. Or, put in a historical context, it is as if the American government acted like Nazis but imprisons a master race instead of embracing it. A scary, difficult scenario.
Fans of "The X-files" and "The X-men" would enjoy this novel as an extension of their favourite scenario. Indeed, "X-men 2" movie is an action-packed slant on this tale. Readers of Stephen King's "Firestarter" will see overtones of one of the main characters - a young girl with special abilities. Bear approaches the topic from his own angle and doesn't waste a word.
The novel is however relatively short, and there are many areas where it could be expanded. In other words, a sequel is possible given the wealth of material present. The novel however, doesn't go anywhere near Apocalypse in spite of the blurb.
Overall, a good read basing itself on good science.
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on 19 October 2004
This is a very good book. The science is good enough to be believable - nothing is too exagerated and the reactions to the 'children' are all too credible. I read Darwin's Radio, enjoyed it, but found this to be a much stronger book in which the characters are fleshed out in a much fuller way. I look forward to reading more of Greg Bear's work.
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on 26 April 2003
First, I do urge you to read DARWIN'S RADIO first, although I feel this is the better novel of the two. However, it is necessary to know the background of the earlier book to thoroughly enjoy the second.
One difficulty I did have with both books is the multitude of characters. So many are introduced and so few really have any importance to the story. This however, is a minor flaw.
While there is a lot of biological background explored in this book, it's easier to take and intrudes less into the plot than it did in the first. More emphasis is given to the human characters, especially the daughter who naturally is a focal point of interest.
The mother becomes more fleshed out also. Her "epiphany" adds interest. The first book stressed her atheism, and therefore, her experience is very interesting, and does have its effect on the character and, in turn, her effect on the plotline. The author deals with this subject in an objective manner so that the reader can accept it as something that does happen to some people or reject it as overactive imagination.
All in all, the two books together comprise one of the better science fiction works.
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on 24 September 2008
The virus children of Bear's `Darwin's Radio' are growing up in a terrified world. The children are being rounded up and kept in special schools where they are studied, but not allowed to learn anything which might help them escape.
Bear sequels in the past have not lived up to the quality of the first instalment and sadly, this is the case here. Despite it being a good solid novel and streets ahead of most of the competition it lacks the tightness and pace of the original. It also includes a rather unnecessary exegesis on the part of Kaye who experiences an encounter with what appears to be God. Unfortunately this never really dovetails into the structure at all and lacks relevance.
However it is an exciting examination of Neo-Darwinism and Bear provides an excellent afterword which includes further recommended reading on the subject.
Taking the two books as a whole the work can be seen as a Twenty First Century update on Van Vogt's `Slan' with echoes of `The Midwich Cuckoos'. The nature of Bear's homo superior is very interesting. They communicate on various levels; by scent, colour flashing of the marks on their faces and in a strange two-levelled speech by which more than one meaning or message can be conveyed at once. They form bonded `families' which they call demes and seem to have lost any desire for competitive behaviour, finding co-operation to be a better genetic survival strategy.
In context `DC' is a post-aids retrovirus-aware work of paranoia, set in a declining USA. Sadly, Bear gives us only brief glimpses of how the virus children are treated elsewhere in the world. An Indian taxi-driver, for instance, at one point talks quite happily of his `Shivite' grand-daughter and of how proud the family are of her.
There is an upbeat ending in which society has grudgingly accepted its children and they live in their own communities. More and more Shivites are being born among the general population in waves every few years.
It's hard to see how Bear could get a third novel from this idea but one suspects that there is another story in there somewhere, waiting to be hatched.
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on 22 October 2009
An absolutely average book with lots of poor supporting characters and weak plot, lacking new ideas (compared to Darwin's Radio) or compelling moves. Everything Kaye and Mitch do here can be described as wandering in the dark and hoping for another deus ex machina, or even epiphany as it is. Anyway, is Bear serious bringing up theology and metaphysics? Things like talking newborns and a professional archaeologist discovering evidence by force of imagination are ridiculous.
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on 11 February 2016
Greg Bear's book are just fantastic. Whilst 'Darwin's Chidren' doesn't quite have the shock value of 'Darwin's Radio' it is still an excellent read if you like really inhabiting possible futures (though this one is more probable than many might think).
He takes the idea that nature has always been experimenting with new life forms - the human body being no exception (even cancer is a reserve of maverick cells available for nature to play with) - and takes it to its logical conclusion, something that few writers are brave enough to do.
As such, the reader is in a position to take that journey with Greg Bear. Though you may not agree with where he takes it, the narrative is facinating - and is based on not just good science, but a good understanding of human nature, motivations and the role of institutions, power, and the dynamics of culture and society.
I also like the way he gives due credence to common sense and felt experience (in the sense that we all know certain things happen, even if they can't be rigorously proved).
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on 20 January 2013
I was never certain if I was going to attempt to read this book after having read Darwin's Radio, however I decided to take the plunge. For me this story comprised of three parts:

- The start, I found the start of this book to be very slow with no real reward for the reader
- A middle section in which the story improves and draws you in and it starts to regain some momentum.
- An end which simply fizzled out with many lose ends.

Whilst I am a great fan of authors work; this book just feels a little forced, it unnecessarily focuses on the science that under pins the story at the costs of the story, it includes some ideas which don't work well within the context of this book and worse of all an ending that just fizzles out and doesn't provide any real closure.

Would I recommend reading it, only if you really enjoyed Darwin's Radio and are keenly interested in how the story progresses.
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on 12 December 2009
As with many of Gregg Bear's books this has strong scientific thread, but don't let that put you off too much - as with "Darwin's Radio" (the first book in the series) there is a glossary in the back, unless you have a fair knowledge of genetics you will need it.

As far as the story line goes I have dropped Bear one star because there were a couple of weakish angles, but that may be more from the point of view of my own beliefs rather than true literary demerit. Otherwise it is a good, well constructed story (as we expect of Bear) and holds the attention. Its scope covers the personal angle, corporate and political intrigue, ethics, genetics, and archaeology which have all been well researched by the author.

Well worth reading if science does not give you the shakes!
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on 25 April 2013
I read this book in my teens and vaguely remembered the general plot and have enjoyed rediscovering it now. When I first read it I was unaware of the previous novel Darwin's Radio, I think this book stands well on its own but am now planning to read DR too. I enjoyed the parts of the story that focused on Stella and her family but found some of the scientific discussions and political chapters less absorbing, a little dry, however the depth of scientific disussion is also what made the plot seem less sci-fi and more plausible. I would recommend this to others but warn it is not light reading.
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