Friday, April 08, 2005

Robert Charles Wilson - Darwinia

This 1999 science fiction novel looks at the ideas of alternate realities / universes with a somewhat different approach. Things start out promisingly, albeit with a somewhat unbelievable core idea.

This idea - that Europe vanishes overnight in 1912, being replaced by a continent identical in geography, but with a different natural evolution - has many plot holes. Some of them so big you can drive a very large bus through them. But leaving this aside, we get a promising start to the book.

Obviously Britain has vanished - on the eve of the First World War, still the greatest imperial nation, and one controlling large swaithes of the globe. With it's capital gone, parts of the empire (Egypt is mentioned) gain rapid independence, while the remnants of the British ruling class - lead by Lord Kitchener from Canada, attempt to hang on to India.

Britain's navy is intact, and this leads to the most exciting ideas in the book - that the vast, untapped natural resources of this new, primeval Europe, are up for grabs and the US wants to get them, sparking conflict between the two powers.

The book centres on an expedition into the new/old continent. At this point, the novel falls apart. Rapidly. We get some sort of alternate-reality, future civilisation, mumbo-jumbo. Different forces at the end of the galaxy are mentioned, who seem to be using the Earth as both a store of the accumulated information over the previous aeons and a battlefield. Or something.

Frankly, it's easy not to care. So I didn't. I finished it out of duty, in the hope that something interesting might happen. But when some of the main characters (I say characters, but most of them are little more than names) started to mutate into lizard like creatures with multiple arms, I found that the only reason left to finish the book, was so that I could be horrible about it in this review.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wow. Harsh, though I'd tend to agree on most counts. I didn't find it horrible, though I too finished it out of a sense of duty to write my review about it here:

I found at least the main characters to be well enough described, especially the three main "Old Men", but the rest of them were superficial.

The ideas about the Gods and the war over history are interesting, though they didn't mesh well with the beginning.

There certainly was a "WTF?" moment when the last half of book seemed to be simply appended on to the first half of a different book. Both halves were interesting and fun independently of each other, and even though the glue that held them together was a bit... watery.

I gave it a 3/5 since 2/5 seemed a bit harsh. Definitely not at the top of my recommended reading list though.. not even close.