Darwin’s Children – Greg Bear (2003)
‘Evolution is no longer just a theory
Stella Nova is one of the ‘virus children’, a generation of genetically enhanced babies born a dozen years before to mothers infected with the SHEVA virus.
In fact, the children represent the next great evolutionary leap and a new species of human, Homo sapiens novus, but this is officially denied. They’re gentle, charming and persuasive, possessed of remarkable traits. Nevertheless, they are locked up in special schools, quarantined from society, feared and reviled.
‘Survival of the fittest’ takes on a new dimension as the children reach puberty. Stella is one of the first find herself attracted to another ‘virus child’ but the authorities are watching and waiting for the opportunity to strike the next blow in their escalating war to preserve ‘humankind’ at any cost.’
Blurb from the 2004 HarperCollins paperback edition.
The virus children of Bear’s ‘Darwin’s Radio’ are growing up in a terrified world. The children are being rounded up and kept in special schools where they are studied, but not allowed to learn anything which might help them escape.
So far Kaye Lang and Mitch have kept their daughter with them by fleeing from town to town. Stella however is keen to meet others of her kind and escapes. This results in her capture and incarceration in one of the isolated schools.
Bear sequels in the past have not lived up to the quality of the first instalment and sadly, this is the case here. Despite it being a good solid novel and streets ahead of most of the competition it lacks the tightness and pace of the original. It also includes a rather unnecessary exegesis on the part of Kaye who experiences an encounter with what appears to be God. Unfortunately this never really dovetails into the structure at all and lacks relevance.
However it is an exciting examination of Neo-Darwinism and Bear provides an excellent afterword which includes further recommended reading on the subject.
Taking the two books as a whole the work can be seen as a Twenty First Century update on Van Vogt’s ‘Slan’ with echoes of ‘The Midwich Cuckoos’. The nature of Bear’s homo superior is very interesting. They communicate on various levels; by scent, colour flashing of the marks on their faces and in a strange two-levelled speech by which more than one meaning or message can be conveyed at once. They form bonded ‘families’ which they call demes and seem to have lost any desire for competitive behaviour, finding co-operation to be a better genetic survival strategy.
In context ‘Darwin’s Children’ is a post-aids retrovirus-aware work of paranoia, set in a declining USA. Sadly, Bear gives us only brief glimpses of how the virus children are treated elsewhere in the world. An Indian taxi-driver, for instance, at one point talks quite happily of his ‘Shivite’ grand-daughter and of how proud the family are of her.
There is an upbeat ending in which society has grudgingly accepted its children and they live in their own communities. More and more Shivites are being born among the general population in waves every few years.
It’s hard to see how Bear could get a third novel from this idea but one suspects that there is another story in there somewhere, waiting to be hatched.