Darwin's Children by Greg Bear
Del Rey / Random House Galley: ISBN 0345448359 PubDate: April 2003
Review by Bruce Wallace
368 pages List price 24.95
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Darwinís Children picks up the tale of Darwinís Radio ten years after the events detailed in that novel. For those of us not fortunate to have read that story a short recap is in order. Darwinís Radio tells the reader about a new form of human being evolving due to an ancient virus, Human Endogenous Retrovirus or HERV that has suddenly become active after lying dormant in human DNA for thousands of years. The children are born after their mothers suffer a miscarriage and somehow become pregnant again, this time delivering a healthy but very different baby. The new children have an acute sense of smell that forms the cornerstone of how they communicate with each other as well as a window to the outside world. Using their sense of smell they can detect whether or not a person is healthy or dying, truthful or lying. They are feared because of these abilities and the virus which helped bring them into the world. The very fact that they are so obviously different from the rest of the human race ignites fear and prejudice on a global scale.
The world in which Darwinís Children takes place is a dark and dangerous world for HERV children and their parents. Laws have been passed to protect humanity from the children. The children are ordered into separate schools where they live apart from their parents and the rest of humanity. Here they are to be studied and their threat evaluated. Their potential to harm the human race is twofold. Their bodies are now storehouses of diseases that have not been present for thousands of years. They are immune to a certain extent but the parents and the rest of mankind are not. The second threat they pose is based on manís traditional fear of the unknown. The children are different, there is no disputing that. They have powers that set them apart from the rest of humanity and the fear of becoming just another dead branch on the evolutionary tree is on every humanís mind.
Things start to unravel quickly as a new outbreak of HERV is detected. Kaye Lang, her husband Mitch Rafelson and their daughter Stella, all of whom are main characters in Darwinís Radio, are soon caught up in the new troubles that the outbreak brings about. Kate and her husband Mitch were at the forefront of the HERV crisis and intimately involved in its discovery and the resulting controversy. Stella is herself an HERV child. Stella is sick and Kay and Mitch find that her treatment options are limited. No doctor will see her, no hospital will treat her. She and her parents are soon on the run looking for a safe haven where they can treat their ailing daughter and find a refuge from the government that would take Stella away from them.
Kay succeeds in saving Stellaís life but the fragile peace they have enjoyed is a casualty. The three are separated, but continue to look for the answers they so desperately need.
In the end Darwinís Children is a cautionary tale that shows us where fear and intolerance can lead us when we allow them control of our minds and by extension our courts and governments. Evolution and the change it brings is all around us, we have no say in the direction it takes. Only a duty to care for our children and the world in which we live as if was the most important thing that could ever be. Many thanks to Greg Bear for this wonderful, yet chilling look at where the human race might be heading.