By Robert Charles Wilson
First Published: June 1998
Jacket Illustrated by: Jim Burns
Review © 2009 by Stephen Roof
Genre: Science Fiction (Alternate History), Adventure
Darwina by Robert Charles Wilson is a terrific novel of discovery that’s thought provoking and thoroughly engrossing. It’s classified as science fiction but it’s a long way from traditional space opera. This novel has quite a mixture of alternate history, early 19th century technology, alien flora & fauna, and a cosmological battle of good versus evil.
Darwina begins in 1912 when Europe, as we know it, is suddenly completely transformed into an alien continent. All the people, buildings, and geography appear to have been instantaneously replaced with a new continent containing completely alien and often dangerous plants and animals. The revelation of this incomprehensible change leads to many side effects throughout the world which includes religious fundamentalists gaining control of America.
The novel follows an exploratory expedition launched 8 years after the transformation of Europe into the new continent which has been named "Darwinia" to find out more about this inexplicable mystery. The expedition is quite an adventure that contains plenty of action, mystery, danger, and unexpected twists. Wilson describes the alien new world in wonderful detail.
The main character in Darwina is Guilford Law, an everyman who, at first, is excited to be at the forefront of new discoveries. But when the discoveries go from simply earth shaking to potentially universe shattering, he’s completely overwhelmed and finds that he must pay a steep price for his new knowledge. Will Guilford join an age-old battle? Can he find any peace for himself? Is there hope for Mankind?
The second half of Darwina doesn't keep up the pace and excitement of the first half. The novel shifts gears from a suspenseful adventure of exploration to a more mystical examination of a behind the scenes cosmological scale conflict. Action dominated scenes are replaced by contemplation of far reaching big ideas. I thought it all worked well on different levels but some may be disappointed with the changes in direction.Darwina is a must read novel of discovery unlike any you’ve read before. It’s one of Wilson’s best novels. Don’t miss it!