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Saturday, March 18, 2006

Darwin's Children

I’m currently reading the last chapter of Greg Bear’s Darwin’s Children, the sequel to Darwin’s Radio, which I read last month. I wish I liked this one better than I do. You know how sometimes you have the experience of watching a movie or reading a book or listening to a music of music that you want to like but just don’t actually like? That’s the way I feel here.

I liked the first novel in the series well enough to start reading the second, and I liked the second well enough to finish it, but... Darwin’s Children just doesn’t grab me. It doesn’t engage me — either intellectually or emotionally. As with most other science fiction novels, the ideas here are more important than the character development — but that fact doesn’t in and of itself bother me, since I enjoy science fiction despite the typical lack of fully fledged characters. So I’m having trouble articulating just what it is that’s bothering me. Maybe it’s that this sequel to Darwin’s Radio just isn’t very interesting. When I don’t particularly care about what happens to the characters, when I don’t particularly care about what happens next in the world being described, then I can’t very well recommend the book.

But I’m still trying to figure out why this book doesn’t feel like good science fiction. The science is convincing, and the author writes well enough, so what’s wrong? I am driven to the question, “What is science fiction all about?” Let’s see what a half dozen of the experts say:
“Science fiction is the search for definition of man and his status in the universe which will stand in our advanced but confused state of knowledge (science).” — Brian Aldiss

“Science Fiction is that class of prose narrative treating of a situation that could not arise in the world we know, but which is hypothesized on the basis of some innovation in science or technology...” — Kingsley Amis

“Modern science fiction is the only form of literature that consistently considers the nature of the changes that face us, the possible consequences, and the possible solutions.” — Isaac Asimov

“That branch of literature which is concerned with the impact of scientific advance upon human beings.” — also Isaac Asimov

“The major distinction between fantasy and science fiction is, simply, that science fiction uses one, or a very, very few new postulates, and develops the rigidly consistent logical consequences of these limited postulates. Fantasy makes its rules as it goes along...” — John W. Campbell, Jr.

“A science fiction story is a story built around human beings, with a human problem and a human solution, which would not have happened at all without its scientific content.” — Theodore Sturgeon

“Science fiction is that branch of fantasy, which, while not true to present-day knowledge, is rendered plausible by the reader's recognition of the scientific possibilities of it being possible at some future date or at some uncertain point in the past.” — Donald A. Wollheim
I can live with all these definitions. I don’t disagree with any of them. So Bear definitely succeeded in writing a science fiction novel. I just wish he had written a better one.

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