In The Armchair


Posted in Books and Literature by Armchair Guy on April 10, 2007

In Darwinia, an inexplicable event abruptly replaces the whole of Europe with a counterpart from an alternate history, a wilderness that has experienced a parallel evolution and is complete with its own strange flora and fauna. The adventures of Guilford Law, an American photographer who accompanies a pseudo-scientific expedition into the heart of the new continent, make up most of the book.

I read Darwinia right after The Forge of God (Greg Bear), and the free flow of Wilson’s prose was a relief after Bear’s strained efforts. Wilson is eloquent and well-informed, able to spin an interesting story and engross the reader in even the simple details of the plant and animal life of Darwinia, as the new continent comes to be named. A variety of interesting philosphical questions are posed and discussed throughout the book, but it is not clear that Wilson has considered the questions he poses carefully enough. (Example: One of Wilson’s characters is quick to criticize the Hindu/Buddhist notion of renunciation, evidently without much conception of what it means.) The explanation for the change is interesting as well.

This book, however, has one glaring flaw. The problem lies with Wilson’s apparent indecisiveness about what this novel was going to be. It started off as a jungle adventure story, like an expedition in the Amazon forest. In this phase, it is hardly a science fiction story, more a rollicking adventure tale. Midway, it completely shifts gear, turning into a real science fiction story, but this completely kills the built-up mood of the first half. Suddenly, a colonial-era adventure tale turns into a galaxy-scale war between artificial intelligences and digitized naturals in galaxy-sized defenders against entropy called noospheres. The story is still interesting, but simply loses the gripping richness of the first half.

Nevertheless, the book is worth reading.  It didn’t cease to be enjoyable at any point.


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  1. Spin « In The Armchair said, on November 25, 2008 at 4:15 pm

    […] Darwinia is the only other book by Wilson that I’ve read so far, and it was a relief to see that, unlike that book, this one stays true to itself and doesn’t jump out of its own skin in an effort to shock the reader.  Spin is an balanced mix of pseudoscience (i.e. science-like ideas) and down-to-earth emotional storytelling. […]

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