Darwinia, by Robert Charles Wilson

darwinia-by-robert-charles-wilson coverGenre: Alternate History
Publisher: Tor
Published: 1998
Reviewer Rating: three and a half stars
Book Review by Aaron M. Renn

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It’s almost a truism that expectations play a huge role in how we judge a book. I actively dislike the alternate history subgenre so was prepared to hate Darwinia. As it turned out this was more than your regular alternate history, and I really liked it. But I can’t shake the feeling that had I gone in with higher expectations I wouldn’t have liked it nearly so much.

In 1912 the Miracle happened and Europe was transformed in a single night. All traces of humanity were destroyed and the entire continent was replaced by what was quickly dubbed Darwinia – a wilderness from some bizarre alternate evolution. Guilford Law was a photographer on an expedition to sail up the Rhine on a mission of exploration of this wondrous new continent. At this point, Darwinia seems a combination of your standard alternate history and an exploration adventure story. However, the story rapidly changes to something far more. I can’t say much without spoilers, but let’s just say that it involves good vs. evil, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, the heat death of the universe, love, physical transformation, ghosts, secret societies, immortality and more.

This book is a Hugo nominee and I couldn’t help but compare it to Factoring Humanity, a nominee by fellow Canadian Robert J. Sawyer. The two books are similar in a number of respects. Both are fairly short. Both include a large number of themes and elements that are not fully explored, leaving the reader wanting to know more. For example, in Darwinia, we actually get to do little exploration of the transformed continent itself. Both have a healthy dose of spiritualism. Family relationships play a big part in both as well. But where Factoring Humanity never clicked with me, Darwinia did. I just found it a much more enjoyable read.

I will say that Darwinia started a lot better than it finished. Once the stage was set, the ending was never in doubt. Did you really think the bad guys were going to win? Nevertheless, I liked it and recommend it. I’d never read a Robert Charles Wilson book before, but I’ll definitely be reading more in the future.

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