Robert's Reviews > Darwin's Radio

Darwin's Radio by Greg Bear
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's review
Jun 19, 12

bookshelves: scifi
Read from June 10 to 19, 2012

So I keep on reading Bear novels, feeling disappointed, waiting a while, then rinse and repeat.

This time I've clarified why I am so ambivalent about this guy: he has fascinating ideas then writes dull books about them. The premise here is an extreme example. Our "junk" DNA turns out to be a collection of emergency rapid-response evolutionary accelerators - and the emergency response has just been triggered. Cue mysterious pregnancies, peculiar facial mutations and a really big scientific mystery that turns very political very fast. The detail is very convincing - Bear did a heap of research.

But here's the problem: almost every event of a dramatic nature happens off-stage and the middle part of the book, between the initial scientific drama and the political nightmare at the end bogs down severely. (view spoiler)

There is a theme of the disaster that occurs when science gets forced into the political arena; you only have to look at the climate change debate to know how that goes. It is very realistically handled but develops too slowly. I am reminded of Kim Stanley Robinson. Several of his works deal with science and internal and external politics and how real science is done and I can't help thinking a more interesting novel would have resulted if he had started with the same material.

I acquired Darwin's Children without realising that it was a sequel and then picked up this book subsequently. I will probably read Darwin's Children at some point, since it is lying around and because it really ought to cut to the chase, with the background already painted in with excessive attention to detail but I shall try to resist the urge to buy any more Bear novels regardless of how interesting the premise sounds...
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Reading Progress

06/10/2012 page 50
06/11/2012 page 80
15.0% "Darwin's Very Slow Start."
06/17/2012 page 350
64.0% "Dull."
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Comments (showing 1-12 of 12) (12 new)

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message 1: by Wealhtheow (new)

Wealhtheow The junk DNA rationale is a pretty cool one! But alas, from your review it looks like it wouldn't be worth reading the book just for that.

Robert It really is a fascinating premise - it's frustrating that the execution is poor. Even a radical editing down by 200p would probably be enough to make it pretty good. As it is I find it difficult to recommend unless you're really keen on evolutionary theory.

Kelly H. (Maybedog) The sequel sucks. I totally agree with you about his boring way of working with brilliant ideas sometimes.

message 4: by Wealhtheow (new)

Wealhtheow So annoying! If only there was a way to transplant the great ideas into someone with a great writing style--or vice versa.

Robert Collaboration with another writer might work.

message 6: by [deleted user] (new)

He is definitely no prose stylist. I have a friend who works in epidemiology, and he really loved how the science was portrayed here, but that wasn't enough for me, alas.

message 7: by Robert (last edited Jun 22, 2012 06:31PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Robert Not even for a professional scientist it's kinda nice to see a realistic portrayal of how science is done but this isn't a good advert for it. Kim Stanley Robinson does it better in Antarctica which is an all-round good book and in the subsequent Forty Signs of Rain, Fifty Degrees Below and Sixty Days and Counting, which are flawed but at least never boring.

message 8: by [deleted user] (new)

No, it's certainly not going to light a fire in young people to get into science.

Robert Ceridwen wrote: "No, it's certainly not going to light a fire in young people to get into science."

I don't think any realistic portrayal of academic science would inspire people to get involved, since it could only highlight the yawning gap between the ideal and the disaster that is caused by the way science is funded, whether by government or the private sector...

message 10: by [deleted user] (new)

That's probably right... cynical, but right. I do have some friends in science who have a ton of fun at their jobs, but it probably wouldn't make for a good story. And then we had margarita night! not really being about the science.

Robert I have a tonne of fun in mine; it's the best thing I've ever been paid to do - but anybody who goes from learning science to doing science has to come to terms with the gap between the ideal and reality. Some of that gap is unavoidable in that it's a human endeavor and therefore guaranteed to be imperfect at the practical level, but some of it is because of bad policy that could be improved.

Fortunately, it actually works despite all the problems, because the method is self-correcting. Mistakes, hoaxes and suppression always slow down but never stop science.

message 12: by [deleted user] (new)


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