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Darwin's Radio

(Darwin's Radio #1)

3.70  ·  Rating details ·  13,197 ratings  ·  763 reviews
Molecular biologist Kaye Lang's theory--that ancient diseases encoded in the DNA of humans can return to life--has become a chilling reality. The shocking evidence: a "virus-hunter" has tracked down a flu-like disease that kills expectant mothers and their offspring.
Paperback, 448 pages
Published March 4th 2003 by Ballantine Books (first published May 4th 1999)
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Average rating 3.70  · 
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 ·  13,197 ratings  ·  763 reviews

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May 22, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sf
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
Mar 25, 2013 rated it it was amazing
The first time I read this I felt horrified and dazed for weeks. I still consider this a masterpiece of horror/sci-fi. The characters are somewhat memorable, but more memorable is their pain; indeed, the pain of the whole world was felt in the back of my mouth, preparing it rise up from my stomach, up the pipe, out the maw, to hang onto my lip and smack me thrice on my face, wink, and then jump off to slither under the door-jam and horrify someone else.

Don't get me wrong, this is a pure sci-fi n
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
An excellent idea sadly marred by poor writing, the impression is that Greg Bear came up with a great idea for a novel, researched it and then decided to tell everyone look at what I have learned.
The main problem is the there is a distinct clumpiness to the story a few pages of story followed by look at what I learned today, a rushed ending just as the book begins to take shape.

It borderlines on being turgid. If we look at Andy Weir's The Martian, which is undeniably a well written novel, it co
Oct 12, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction, started
An interesting look at what might possibly be the next stage of evolution. Greg Bear's Hugo nominee is a wonderful mix of scientific and political thriller as well as a study of human reactions and relationships. Beautifully laid out and written in an interesting manner.

After I finished this book I sat back and thought, my god, I know all about viruses and diseases and retroviruses now. Greg Bear does not dumb down the science to make sure his audience gets it, instead he explains everything sev
3.5 stars. Excellent concept and great science highlight this very good "hard" SF story.

Winner: Nebula Award for Best Science Fiction Novel
Nominee: Hugo Award for Best Science Fiction Novel
Nominee: Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel
Nominee: John W. Campbell Award for Best Science Fiction Novel
Let's hark back to the halcyon early 2000s, when Bill Cosby might have starred in a PSA about a disease outbreak intended to calm the frightened public, when the scientific community might have accepted that an ancient virus was the evolutionary catalyst for Homo sapiens to subspeciate from Homo neanderthalensis in one generation, before we got a better handle on how screwed up the hominid family tree really is.

I read the sequel Darwin's Children about a decade ago and only recently realized I c
Oct 20, 2014 rated it did not like it
As warned by a friend, the ideas here are pretty fascinating -- the book might be fifteen years behind in terms of science, but there's nothing inherently ridiculous about the idea based on the scientific knowledge of the time -- but the actual narrative is pretty deadly boring. Some of the writing is just... why would you let that slip past, editor? Hard SF isn't just about the cool ideas: there has to be some element of execution there as well, or there's no point in writing it as a novel -- t ...more
Mina Villalobos
Sep 21, 2008 rated it liked it
The first 200 pages or so of this book are incredibly engaging and interesting. I wasn't put off by the science talk, though there was too much of it -someone who truly understood it would probably find a lot of holes in it, and someone who didn't get it beyond the basics didn't really need to read so extensively about it- but after the first half, the book starts taking a plunge south. I stopped caring about the characters at some point in the middle, the female lead turning into quite a trope ...more
Aug 25, 2014 rated it really liked it
I really liked this book. The author obviously researched the subject matter thoroughly, and there was a good balance of science and engaging plot line. I found it to be an easy and fun read, and I will definitely be reading more books by this author in the future.
Stephen Poltz
May 20, 2020 rated it liked it
This book was quite a mixed bag. It’s very hard science. There’s also a lot of politics. And it reads like a best seller science thriller, almost like a cross between Michael Crichton and James Patterson. I didn’t care for the first three hundred fifty pages. There were several times I wanted to put the book down, but I was reading this for my book club in exile, so I plowed through. Fortunately, the last hundred fifty pages were much better. There was less science and more thriller. And I final ...more
Aug 13, 2010 rated it did not like it
Shelves: science-fiction
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Edmund Bloxam
Apr 13, 2020 rated it did not like it
Frighteningly dull. Perhaps the most pointless succession of words ever committed to the page.

The blurb at the back of the book, the concept is quite interesting. Unfortunately, this is it in terms of plot. All of this detail is established around page 50 or so.

What happens in the monstrous, monstrous morass that follows? Absolutely fuc*ing nothing.
Allegedly, this is a story about a pandemic. In it, the characters sit in meeting rooms talking about things in broad concepts. Reading it is like si
A re-read for the Powell's SF Book Group in Exile. I got to this book a little later than I planned, so had to push the reading speed. And at first that was a challenge. It is definitely hard science fiction. But I've read a bunch of genetics, dna, anthropology and was able to muscle through - so this ended up being a 2 day read - well 36 hours.

Writing near-future hard science fiction that ages well is probably impossible. There's almost no way to get the science right. And for something like th
Dec 28, 2008 rated it liked it
A CDC disease chaser discovers a virus that seems to be asymptomatic in everyone but pregnant women, and mass graves in Georgia (the country) and a newly discovered family of forty thousand year old mummies suggest this isn’t the first outbreak. And our heroes -- that CDC disease hound, a successful biologist, and an anthropologist with questionable ethics -- begin to suspect it isn’t an outbreak at all.

Okay, so it’s not actually a ‘read a textbook instead’ science fiction book. I mean, the scie
Sep 07, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: fans of hard science fiction
Shelves: sci-fi
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, th ...more
Kathy Bell
Mar 06, 2011 rated it liked it
Actually 3.5, were that possible on GoodReads.

I really enjoy science fiction with lots of science, and especially evolutionary concepts, so this book appealed to me immensely in theory. In practice, I found myself skipping huge amounts of text so I could move the plot along. The science behind the concept was intriguing and well developed, but the rest of the story dragged on longer than I thought necessary. For those who like their scifi with indepth descriptions of every character and their ev
Althea Ann
Jun 09, 2010 rated it it was ok
A fast-paced, page-turning sci-fi/medical thriller, with an acknowledged nod to Robin Cook's "Outbreak." However, the interesting (although improbable) scientific ideas in the book lift it above the run-of the-mill bestseller.
An unusual discovery is made - two Neandertal mummies, with a seemingly normal, Homo Sapiens infant. Is the child theirs?
Meanwhile, a new transmissible retrovirus is discovered - although it might seem to be nothing more than a cold, one of its side effects in pregnant wome
Jul 17, 2008 rated it really liked it
I liked it. I started it as an audiobook for a long weekend drive up to Eugene and I liked it enough to check out the book and finish reading it once I got back-I thought about finishing it through the cds but that would have taken too long and I HAD to know what would happen. It's really like two books in one. The first part has lots of science and a slower pace, then the book starts to go down an entirely different and unexpected path, raising some interesting ethical issues along the way. The ...more
Neal Wilson
Dec 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
Fascinating hard Sci-Fi speculation on what a new state of evolution might be like. Parts of his microbiology descriptions were a bit heavy but the plot was interesting enough you could breeze through the overly complicated passages and easily stay with the story. I see there's a sequel but I'm thinking I don't feel the need to see anything else happen with this particular story.
NC Stone
Apr 27, 2019 rated it really liked it
Nicely done hard SciFi. It went a big heavy on the data dumps regarding the behaviors of genes and other aspects of inherited traits, disease, and evolution but the plot and characters were strong enough to keep the pages turning.
Rachel (Kalanadi)
Nov 21, 2016 marked it as did-not-finish
Shelves: winners-nebulas
Wrong book at a very wrong time for me, but given the bit about mass miscarriages and deformed fetuses and etc. I doubt I would want to stomach this during even a good time.
May 16, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: audio, 2020
A frustrating book that hovers just on the edge of brilliance and instead settles for 'incomprehensible.' I mean, it would be awesome if the themes of religion and religious-archetypes-as-harbingers-of-major-subspeciation-events was explored. It would be awesome if the idea that 'evolution selects for individuals who could bring about major evolutionary events' was explored. Using the unexplained tools of evolution-- like desire and love. Or war.

It would be awesome if (view spoiler)
Apr 08, 2014 rated it did not like it
Oh man. This was basically a DNF, as I did a lot of skimming.

I picked this up expecting a sort of virus-thriller (like Contagion, or the Andromeda Strain, I imagine). And besides, it was about things hiding in our genes and I have a keen academic interest in evolution.

But I could NOT get through this.

Firstly, the science. Bear actually started out solidly, talking about lysogenic viruses and how our genome could contain parts of these viruses. Okay, so far so good. Suddenly they could be activat
Jul 13, 2008 rated it it was ok
There is a marvelous skinny book inside this sluggish fat monster longing to get out: no more than 200 pages, please!

Its at times like these that I understand the True Value of Reader's Digest Condensed Books. Trim it down by half, cut out the turgid subplots, the rambling characters who drift in and out!

And yet started so well ... taut and crisp, it tingled the curiosity and fired the imagination ... only to spiral down into ever increasing, never ceasing scientific ramblings and soap opera sub
Sep 27, 2012 rated it it was ok
This sci-fi "thriller" never really worked for me. The basic premise -- there is a virus that allows the human genetic code to undergo a massive change to a higher lifeform -- provides a reasonable basis for the novel, but as a story it never comes together.

The details of the new virus slowly emerge, as more people become infected and scientists start to study it. Instead of building dramatically in the novel, it gets slowly dished out with enough hints as to where it is going that I started to
Jul 15, 2016 rated it really liked it
I've been trying to figure out if I've read this one before, or if it just seems familiar because I've read the second book in the series. I think I remember the second book being a lot more engaging, perhaps because there are a lot of very smart children in it, and who doesn't enjoy little kids showing up adults?

This start is a little drier, and it's very science heavy, so if you're not into DNA and genetics, you might want to skip this one. I have a passing interest, and I was decently able to
Jun 20, 2016 rated it it was ok
This book could have been considerably better, but the execution was just way off. The idea is interesting, but has significant overtones of the misunderstanding that evolution is in some way directed towards improvement - more really needs to be done to emphasize why this is not a problem, otherwise you're going to lose me in magical thinking.

The other issue is that the story and the characters don't seem particularly compelling, and the whole book kinda goes nowhere. I found jarring (view spoi
Nov 03, 2012 rated it really liked it
Vaguely scifi...a current day medical science intrigue. Cool idea. The story is really a thriller about the world's reaction to scary disease-like symptoms resulting in aborted babies and immaculate conceptions, which has occurred many times before in human history, and even before. The main characters are magnificently drawn; I really cared for them or at least could empathize with those I did not like. There were no cardboard cutout placeholders. The writing was magnificent, even if it wasn't ...more
This is the second book I've read this year about the evolution of humanity, though this one was a little less apocalyptic than The Girl with All the Gifts. Though I didn't find the book itself compelling, the topic was and reading this did inspire me to want to read on to discover what happens to Darwin's Children. ...more
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Greg Bear is one of the world's leading hard SF authors. He sold his first short story, at the age of fifteen, to Robert Lowndes's Famous Science Fiction.

A full-time writer, he lives in Washington State with his family. He is married to Astrid Anderson Bear. He is the son-in-law of Poul Anderson. They are the parents of two children, Erik and Alexandra.

Other books in the series

Darwin's Radio (2 books)
  • Darwin's Children (Darwin's Radio #2)

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