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Darwin's Radio 98

Greg Bear is rightly recognized as a master of hard science ficiton. James Scott has written a review of Bear's novel Darwin's Radio, an incredible story concerning the human race's next leap ahead. Click below to find out more - or discuss the book, if you've read it.
Darwin's Radio
author Greg Bear
pages 430
publisher Del Rey
rating 8/10
reviewer James Scott
ISBN 0-345-42333-X
summary Bear spins a plausible yet incredible tale of mankind's next giant leap.

Greg Bear is indisputably one of the preeminent "hard" science fiction writers working today. His past writings have taken ideas from many areas of contemporary scientific research and spun them into fantastic universes. Blood Music and Queen of Angels, aside from being absolutely engrossing tales, helped nanotechnology enter the mainstream vocabulary. In addition to his excellent treatment of science, the development of his characters seldom suffers at the hands of his concepts, and it is always the characters that make the story rewarding. His latest effort is no exception. Darwin's Radio sets complex and believable characters in a story that puts forth a convincing theory of punctuated equilibrium in evolution.

Darwin's Radio is set just after the (not-even-slightly apocalyptic) turn of the millenium in a universe that is recognizably our own. The story revolves around Kaye Lang, a brilliant molecular biologist who specializes in the study of retroviruses. Specifically, she studies endogenous retroviruses - RNA-based viruses that integrate their genetic material into the host's DNA, becoming part of the host's genome. As the book opens, Lang is on a trip to the former Soviet republic of Georgia, trying to win the cooperation of local scientists in a business venture. On a side trip to investigate a recently discovered mass grave filled with the bodies of pregnant women, she meets Christopher Dicken, a virus hunter for the Centers for Disease Control. Dicken is on the trail of a peculiar illness (eventually known as "Herod's Flu") that seems only to strike young pregnant women and cause miscarriages. Soon after her return to the United States, Kaye finds a media spotlight as other researchers discover that Herod's Flu is actually a Scattered Human Endogenous retroVirus Activation - SHEVA - which she predicted. SHEVA soon reaches epidemic levels around the world, causing virtually every pregnant woman to miscarry.

Meanwhile, two fortune-seeking mountaineers lead anthropologist Mitch Rafelson to a startling discovery in the Austrian Alps - a mummified Neanderthal man and woman with a human baby. Mitch sees the Neandertal family as direct evidence of the speciation of Homo sapiens and soon intuits a connection among his discovery, the Georgian mass grave and SHEVA. Already discredited by a previous fiasco with Native American remains, and held in suspicion for the company he kept in the Alps, Mitch is unable to influence the scientific inquiry into his discovery. However, he does eventually connect with Christopher and Kaye, who are working to explain and control SHEVA amid increasingly panicked reactions from the general population. Lang initially assists the federal government's efforts, but never really supports the view that SHEVA is a disease. Like Mitch, she's convinced that the virus is an agent of change for humanity.

I don't think I'm spoiling the book by stating that the story concerns human evolution. If the title doesn't give it away, a cursory glance at the dust jacket reveals comments like Anne McCaffery's: "WOW!...a human upgrade..." In the first 150 pages or so, through Mitch and Kaye's eyes, Bear gives the reader enough evidence to draw the conclusion that SHEVA is responsible for the human baby born to the Neanderthals and will soon create the next evolution of humans. However, he doesn't grace Christopher Dicken and his fellows in the CDC with the same insight. The government continues to treat SHEVA as a pathogen that threatens humanity's existence (which is not an altogether incorrect viewpoint). The CDC can't prevent the miscarriages, and Bear provides a vivid depiction of the violence that results from the government's inability to accept the truth and communicate it to the people.

This novel provides an excellent story as well as some new concepts to ponder. The evolutionary ideas Bear puts forth, aside from sounding extremely plausible (to this non-microbiologist), provoke some very entertaining thoughts. Humans have spent the last hundred years or so modifying nature to suit ourselves. We're used to dealing with problems that we inflict on ourselves. How do we react when nature modifies us? This conflict forms a vibrant backdrop for the human story - the political ambitions that blind Christopher to the true nature of SHEVA, Kaye's brilliance in research and naivete in practically ever other pursuit, Mitch's frustration as his past prevents him from persuading other scientists to his point of view. Bear renders the romance (yes, there's romance) between two major characters compellingly without being lurid, with a bit of unrequited love as garnish. The plot motors along, but gives the reader some time to consider the implications of evolving humans as the government's efforts to "cure" SHEVA patients goes nowhere. Even then, the author entertains us with nonviolent protests, outright riots, and pagan fertility rites. Bear's prose is crisp, if not quite up to the stratospherically high standards he set in Queen of Angels. The ending, while not totally unsatisfying, leaves several questions unanswered and is wide open for a sequel. This is not necessarily a Bad Thing, since Darwin's Radio presents a world that will certainly bear further exploration.

Pick this book up at Amazon

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Darwin's Radio

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    I hate when writers make their acronyms mean something, rather than have what the acronym stands for mean something. "SHEVA" is a obvious anagram of "Shiva", the Hindu god of Destruction and it obviously stands for the destruction of humans. Dumb, but every writer has it drilled into them at school that EVERYTHING in a novel must have meaning, no matter how obvious or cheesy it is.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Not true. Lots of science fiction is completely within the bounds of physics. It's just the engineering that it extrapolates.
  • Perhaps it's more that Greg Bear despairs of the general state of humanity. We're really rather savage cusses, when you look at it.

    Given the powers that we have (atomic energy, pervasive communication, etc) and the powers we are on the verge of acquiring, (nanotech, gene engineering, etc) we're in trouble, as a species. It may be due to mere luck and a little extra maturity at the critical times that we've survived so far. With the coming advancements, our chances may be just about nil.

    We either have a LOT of maturing to do as a species, and FAST, or we need some other way to achieve the same end.

    I believe that is where Bear's Therapy comes in. He has little hope of us growing up fast, and needs to find another way for the human race to survive long enough to become plot movers in his stories of the future.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Huh? When an author goes to every possible extent to ensure his story fits in with the currently understood model of physics, should we just forget that fact and move on? The stories are as bound by the laws of physics as the author wants them to be. For Greg Bear, the science is an intricate part of the story, so the accuracy is important. There's no reason to ignore it - in fact, Bear doesn't want us to ignore it.

    By your argument, all classes of fiction are just fiction - historical fiction is fiction. Horror is fiction. Romance novels are fiction. Well of course they are! How else are we going to seperate Greg Bear from Ray Bradbury from Jackie Collins if we don't label their works? If, in fact, we don't use the very labels they give themselves!

    If you want to argue whther or not Bear should be classified as hard science fiction, fine. But don't just dismiss the whole category out of hand.
  • Here's a link to my review [urbanophile.com].

  • So creationists, before you condemn me, allow me to pre-emptively point out that I know that I am truly a horrible person, and that I am condemning myself to everlasting pain, and that as far as I'm concerned, all of you people are completely right and modern science is completely wrong .. 'kay? Thanks.

    Who the fsck tells you this?

    Assuming this isn't a strawman of sorts, I'd like to apologize for the behavior of my fellows. Please do make a distinction among people responsibly pursuing their own faith (and spreading it when such is welcome) and rabid... ahh, how can I politely describe them?

    Never mind.
  • by cduffy ( 652 ) <charles+slashdot@dyfis.net> on Thursday October 28, 1999 @05:04AM (#1581635)
    See subject. This is generally something taught by guest speakers at churches to folks who don't know any better, who then repeat it to those who do.

    Rather unfortunate, that.

    I seriously doubt you'll find any of the better-informed creationists embracing that belief.

    (Oh... you wonder how I manage to believe in creationism? I just don't interpret things in quite as bounded a manner as many of my fellows... that is to say, I'm more than glad to believe that, for instance, God created the universe by selecting it from the series of all possible ones. I suppose this could be almost termed a meta-creation... how the 0-stage creation itself occured is not necessarily relevant. Of course, the possability I just threw out has interesting implications for free will and the like; I'm offering it as an example of compatibility, not as a belief I espouse).
  • ... but then I answered my own questions. ;)

    Fossil evidence indicates Homo Sapians/CroMagnons lived alongside Neanderthals. Oddly enough, though they often lived peacefully RIGHT beside each other, there's no evidence they ever lived WITH each other (that I've heard of anyway). This co-existence would seem to put a damper on the virus in the book, which seems to be quite communicable. If it's so damn communicable to warrant mass graves, how could the poor infected Neanderthal population hope to survive alongside proto-humans long enough to leave the fossil records they did?

    Of course, they would be two different viruii, with two different levels of communicability. Maybe the Neanderthal variant just took longer? I get one head smack there.

    Not to mention the fact that these proto-humans weren't as crowded as we were. Even up to the last few centuries, certain populations were spared the horrors of viruii that are common all over the world today. Look at the affect Europeans had on the native American populations! Not anymore; the global economy and environment today is in the chute for some nasty virulent surprises.

    Since I can't debunk the premise, I'll have to buy it. Looks damn interesting! ;)

  • I hate when writers make their acronyms mean something, rather than have what the acronym stands for mean something. "SHEVA" is a obvious anagram of "Shiva", the Hindu god of Destruction and it obviously stands for the destruction of humans. Dumb, but every writer has it drilled into them at school that EVERYTHING in a novel must have meaning, no matter how obvious or cheesy it is.

    I dunno. I think it's realistic given the tendancies real people have for forming these silly acronyms. ;)

  • Quite honestly I think the best Sci-Fi ends dealing with philosophy. Star Trek, Clarke, Gibson and many others. While I do enjoy various types of sci-fi, I think the real purpose is to make us think.. What is it to be human, what should we do with the power of technology etc. Sci-fi provides this by allowing androids, AI, aliens and other elements which make us question. This is Sci-Fi

    Indeed. You have just illustrated the difference between SciFi and Science Fiction.

  • I think we should discontinue all further use of the term "hard science fiction" - there are NO hard sci-fi writers, even among those (like Bear) with strong science groundings. Let's enjoy these books for what they are - great stories - but remember they're works of fiction and fantasy, not bound by the laws of physics.

    I disagree. Let me start out by saying your post SHOULD NOT have been moderated to Flamebait. It's certainly on topic, and while it will probably draw considerable fire, Flamebait it ain't.

    That being said, I need this term! Without it I could be saddled with crappy Piers Anthony books (no offense to the legions of 13 year olds who seem to enjoy them!) and no way to tell them apart from the good stuff.

    Hard Science Fiction is just that... fiction. Part of the fun lies in finding the scientific errors and debunking them.

    Take Ringworld for example. As an abtract idea, it's brilliant! An artifical ecosystem that offers the benefits of a planet on a huge scale. The first novel however, left glaring holes in it's implemenation. (The ring world is unstable! The ring world is unstable!) Erosion, instability, and numerous other snafus were detected and addressed in the next novel (which also contained it's share of snafus).

    Hard Science Fiction, while giving us a healthy dose of entertainment, also gives us an opportunity to exercise our intellect and decide for ourselves what's plausible, possible, and probable.

  • One of Greg Bear's themes that has alway disturbed me is his apparent belief that all humans require some form of psychotherapy. In "Eon", the entire human race is basically sedated by future versions of ourselves. In "Slant", only rare and exceptional individuals can survive in society without some form of therapy. Personnaly, I like me and don't want someone messing with my head.

    I never came away from his novels with that impression. The impression that all humans would be expected to undergoes some form of psychotherapy, yes. Given the touchy feely attitude prevalent in today's society, and the fact that it's just getting worse I think it makes for a rather realistic (and scary!) view of the future.

    He's also partial to his main characters NOT requiring this help. Look at Olmy in Eon for example. He's entirely self-contained, extremely private, and considered somewhat anarchistic by his peers. A throwback, but a necessary throwback. I think what he's saying is fiddling and fixing is all well and good, but shit gets done by unmodified, crazy humans. ;) Larry Niven takes the same slant in his Known Space stories (at least the pre-Man-Kzin war stories) where the ARM pretty much runs the show and keeps the population uninformed and conditioned. Who runs the ARM? Old men who are not well adjusted by their own standards. Who does the dirty work? Borderline wackos and paranoids kept in check with medicines.

    It's the wackos that get things done, and I don't want anyone messing with my head either! ;)

  • Never mind this thermodynamics hogwash -
    where did the virus come from?

    If the new species of man was "caused" by the virus - what caused the virus?

    I wish I had a nickel for every time someone said "Information wants to be free".
  • Well, just like ultra-right-wing conservative Christians judge all of those people of color based on the bad actions of a few, there are those out there who will judge all Christians by the few Pat Buchanans of the world.

    Ever hear the phrase "bear a cross"? It could be worse. Christians used to get thrown to the lions.

    I wish I had a nickel for every time someone said "Information wants to be free".
  • So is Slashdot now joining the legion of web sites that make a little nookie on the side by linking to Amazon catalog records? ;-)

    I read Darwin's Radio a couple of months ago and found it a very engaging and well written book with an unfortunately implausible and poorly justified central hypothesis. I am very much looking forward to the sequel, however, when the problem of why the thing happened will be far less central than the cultural and societal problems that come out of it.

    Greg Bear is on my list of hard sci-fi authors to pick up on sight, but I think the actual scientific plausibility of Darwin's Radio is a bit weak, for all that Greg Bear's writing does emphasize the science.

  • Or since the dawn of the first stone shard, used to cut, scrape or pierce nature into his liking.

    Agriculture was the biggie, though, no doubt. Beginning of The End.
  • This sounds a lot like Arthur C. Clarke's Childhood's End. Except that in his book our next evolutionary step was to become some sort super-energy organism (but only one composed of many humans). It dealt with the fact that the parents of these evolved children were the last "humans" ever...

    Anyways, if you're into the whole "evolving in one step" thing, I strongly recommed Childhood's End.

  • ``I think we should discontinue all further use of the term "hard science fiction" - there are NO hard sci-fi writers, even among those (like Bear) with strong science groundings.''

    Have to disagree. John Cramer, author of ``Einstein's Bridge'' and ``Twistor'', is a working physicist when he's not writing. Those two novels are full of references to current scientific theories. At least one of the novels I mentioned has an appendix that describes the relationships between those theories and the concepts used in the story.

  • You haven't read the book -- your issues are answered in a scientifically plausible way.

    POSSIBLE SPOILER

    Parents won't be similar to their children -- that's the whole idea of a virus changing the human species. But maybe they will be given adaptations so that they can interact with their "different" children better.

    And yes, if it's a speciation event, then a neanderthal could give birth to a homo sapien -- that doesn't mean the dead homo sapien is the end of ALL homo sapiens -- that's the whole point of the book (evolution isn't an "accident" that only happens in isolated incidents).
  • Man caused the virus that changed man.
  • Like Nanotech? Like Bear?

    Take a look at "The Forge of God".

    Depressing ending, but some interesting nanotech
    shows up in the book. Some in "The Anvil of Stars" too.
  • The ``punctuated equilibrium'' theory you mention, by which I guess you're referring to Stephen Jay Gould, is pretty obviously bogus...there are no ``litteral explosions of new species''...only an incomplete and discontinuous fossil record which permits such speculation to stand without definitive refutation being possible. However Occam's Razor if nothing else suggests such hypothesis are of little value, and introduce unnecessary complication into the overall theory of evolution. Unfortunately science is forever tangled up with wishful thinking, though that may be a fine thing for a novel...
  • hairlesss body....

    Let's hear it for the Aquatic ape theory !!! Humans have a pronounced diving reflex, streamlined shape,water-wasteful waste disposal, a tendency to pig out on shellfish, quite good 3D spatial awareness, etc. etc. We're much better adapted for shoreline life than for the savannah. (and cetaceans seem to have a soft spot for us... maybe they remember something...:-) )

    It seems to me we're actually specialised to be nonspecialists - we function adequately on land, in shallow water, and in the trees..

  • Can you explain what your sigfile's signifying?
  • by Chris Worth ( 18843 ) on Thursday October 28, 1999 @03:21AM (#1581654) Homepage
    I think we should discontinue all further use of the term "hard science fiction" - there are NO hard sci-fi writers, even among those (like Bear) with strong science groundings. Let's enjoy these books for what they are - great stories - but remember they're works of fiction and fantasy, not bound by the laws of physics.
  • This is still a valid term. Hard science fiction is that in which science, especially science derived at least loosely from modern research, plays a major role in the books. Soft science fiction is along the lines of say Ray Bradbury, where the futuristic framework has little to do with actual science, but everything to do with character development.


    I would argue that science fiction has been very predictive in many occasions, even where the 'hard' sf seemed implausible at the time. C.f many stories about cloning, prior to the advent of Dolly.


    Oh, and just to be on topic, I do highly recommend Greg Bear, esp. the Queen of Angels series & Forge of God/Anvil of Stars (esp. the latter).

  • One of Greg Bear's themes that has alway disturbed me is his apparent belief that all humans require some form of psychotherapy. In "Eon", the entire human race is basically sedated by future versions of ourselves. In "Slant", only rare and exceptional individuals can survive in society without some form of therapy. Personnaly, I like me and don't want someone messing with my head.

    Has Bear undergone a lot of therapy in his life? I don't know that much about his past.

    Besides, we non-social geek types will probably be the first to get "corrected". :(


    Read a good book lately?

  • You're thinking of the integral trees from the Smoke Ring series. Vaguely the same idea (A band of life all the way around a star), different implementation. The Ringworld is an artificial construct spinning fast enough to create normal gravity, while the Smoke Ring is natural, a gas torus with a core that has enough pressure and the right composition to be habitable by humans, despite the lack of ground and slight gravity. And really huge free-floating trees that somehow don't spin around like whirligigs.
  • Yes, and as we all know, none of these "works of fiction" have come to predict actual technological advances, or the social changes they cause.
    \end{sarcasm}

    Anything that is plausible is hard sf. Are you claiming that nanotechnology, space colonies, biological / mechanical enhancement of humans, etc., will never come to pass?
  • Little strings of atoms that "know" how to
    build things using other strings of atoms.

    can you say nanotechnology?

    crack open a chicken egg. spread the yoke and
    white around on a large plate. poke around in
    it till you find a leg bone.
  • I don't use sigs. It's wasteful.
  • It's too bad people go around writing books like this without actually figuring what the next evolutionary step actually is. The libraries are filled with books that "set up a sequel." I'm sick of it. I want to know what's actually going to happen. I don't mind fiction but can't there be some correspondance to reality?
  • Good review. Sounds like a good book; I've enjoyed Bear's other books, I'll be sure to give this a look when I have time.

    Silly little nitpick: you said:

    Humans have spent the last hundred years or so modifying nature to suit ourselves.

    I'd argue that humans have been doing that since at least the dawn of agriculture.
  • Who the fsck tells you this?

    Try spending some time in talk.origins [talk.origins]. :-)

    Assuming this isn't a strawman of sorts, I'd like to apologize for the behavior of my fellows.

    Oh, nobody (least of all me) is trying to attribute the rabidness of the most fundamentalist creationists to creationists as a whole. There are plenty of zealots who are only too willing to resort to vague threats to try to get their point across. Nevertheless, the sentence of mine that you quoted was overly sarcastic and was, in retrospect, ill-advised. Please consider it stricken from the record.
  • by cje ( 33931 ) on Thursday October 28, 1999 @04:43AM (#1581664) Homepage
    Ok, for years I have heard poeple say that evolution violates the second law.

    Evolution violates the Creationists' Second Law of Thermodynamics. This is the law that says that things tend to progress from order to disorder, and since evolution says that the opposite is true, it must violate the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Now, this conveniently ignores such pesky terminology as "closed system", and for the sake of simplicity, minor things such as the Sun are not factored in. (Incidentally, I wonder if any of the creationists who claim that order cannot come from disorder in nature have ever seen a snowflake.)

    Anyway, you might want to check this link out:

    The Second Law of Thermodynamics, Evolution, and Probability [talkorigins.org]

    It is only my intention to provide more information related to this query; it is not my intention to ignite some drawn-out thread about religion versus science in a place where it is clearly inappropriate. So creationists, before you condemn me, allow me to pre-emptively point out that I know that I am truly a horrible person, and that I am condemning myself to everlasting pain, and that as far as I'm concerned, all of you people are completely right and modern science is completely wrong .. 'kay? Thanks.
  • I ordered this book the day it was released, anticipating a masterpiece in Bear's usual style. I was sorely disappointed.

    First of all, the style he assumed for this book is of a movie script. I got the same impression from the style of this book as I did from "Airframe" by Michael Crichton (also read recently) that the book was written to be adapted to a movie. Every chapter ends the same way with the same contrived suspense.

    Second, I think Bear spent more time explaining aspects of biology than developing the plot. But he explained the wrong things. The simple biology he explained concisely, but the more complicated biology he let pass without an explanation.

    Though he characterized well, the plot was thin as hell. The entire book led to a [predictable] conclusion which I feel should have come about 200 pages earlier.

    The science fiction in this book was minimal. This felt like the kind of book I get when I'm desperate for something to read on a long airplane ride.

    Bleh, skip it.
  • Does " a mummified Neanderthal man and woman with a human baby." consitute an example of accuracy?

    I didn't think so. Lets check the flaws:
    1) Neanderthal's are humans, just of a difference species or subspecies.

    2) The 'hopeful monster' approach described above is like something from the worst excesses of creationist misunderstandings. Parents will be very similar to their children.

    3) If really this was the speciation event, then there wouldn't be a homo sapiens species, because the baby died!

  • We are Homo sapiens - Homo comes from latin, and means man or human.

    Neanderthal's are Homo neanderthalensis or Home sapiens neanderthalensis, depending on if you currently belive them to be a seperate species or subspecies. In either case, they are in the genus Homo, and are therefore humans. If you read any book discussing human evolution, then they will use a term like 'modern humans' when informally discussing homo sapiens.

    Ponies and horses are of the same species, Equus caballus. The only difference between the two is that ponies are smaller, and really this is a very minor difference which is maintained for no particular good reason. Dogs come in a very large range of sizes, and we don't call small dogs a different name to large dogs.

    The differences you give between parents and child are very minor differences. Dwarfism isn't always genetic, it can be developmental as well, autism has unknown cause at the moment, and hair and eye colour vary in almost all mamalian species (And invisible when comparing skeletons).

    The virus idea causing speciation doesn't stop it being totally silly! If speciation happened like that, then every birth would be a new species.

  • "Tomorrow and Tomorrow" was a great book! You really can't go much further than the end of the Universe with a book. Kind of like Poulsen's "Tau Zero" (also a great book).
  • Sounds like an interesting theory to expalin punctuated equilibrium or the theory that evolution happens in litteral explosions of new species isntead of only just gradual change.
  • I mean really, what I consider a romance and what some unfulfilled housefrau considers a romance are two different things.

    What I consider fantasy, some people interpret as religious truth, and vice versa.

    And let's get rid of that pesky Dewey Decimal system, classifications are bad.

    And let's get rid of book titles too, since they can be misleading. An author can name his book just about anything she or he wants, it doesn't necessarily have to relate to the book matter in the way I think it does.

    So we'll end up with a huge mass of undifferentiated, unorganized texts, but we won't offend anyone.

    Please Chris, I understand that "hard science fiction" may break the rules of physics, but it is fiction after all, and as a science fiction reader I appreciate the way the genre is divided into hard, cyberpunk, soft, fantasy, alternate history, etc. It makes it easier for me to find a book that I will enjoy, and avoid the sub-genres that I don't like.

    Thanks,

    George
  • So, do you consider "Romantic Fiction" to be an inherent contradiction too, simply because it doesn't take you out to dinner and send you flowers? :-)

    I don't want Romantic Fiction to take me out to dinner and buy me flower, I want it to crack Microsoft for me.

    George
  • by georgeha ( 43752 ) on Thursday October 28, 1999 @04:32AM (#1581672) Homepage
    I think maybe you might reliese evolution as a theory is majorly flawed. Just read and understand the 2nd law of thermodynamics.. and you might see why.. this is why i cant understand why authors persist to promote this bad science in their works... oh when will it end.

    Hey AC, the Second Law of Thermodynamics does not apply to evolution because the Earth is not a closed control volume, you have scads of energy pouring in from the Sun, a far lesser amount emanating from the Earth, matter falling on the Earth and a far lesser amount leaving the Earth.

    The Earth and the Sun taken together as one control volume are closer to a closed system. The increasing complexity of life on the Earth is more than balanced by the increasing entropy on the sun, and soon (universally speaking) when all the hydrogen on the sun is gone and it swells into a red giant, we'll see that.

    Do you know anything about thermodynamics besides what you parrot of web pages? My qualifications come from several thermo courses I passed to get my BS in Aerospace Engineering.

    George

  • I'd say that a book where you know something is going to follow the ending, but you don't know what, corresponds pretty well to reality. Stuck here in reality, we don't know what's going to happen next. A realistic story should give the impression that events of some sort or another will continue to occur.

    Unless maybe your story ends at the Omega Point like Charles Sheffield's strange and interesting Tommorrow and Tomorrow, though I guess even that has room for a sequal of sorts.

  • Savage and immature? Yikes... not that old chestnut. I've lost track of the number of SF stories that have used that cliche. Does he go for the double and give humanity one sole redeeming feature that somehow manages to balance things?

    I don't know... given what we started with (a slow, weak, hairless body ill-adapted to an upright posture) I think we're doing rather well. It's not as if we've met anyone else who's doing any better.

  • I don't know if anyone else has noticed this, but I've seen several authors/publishers do the following:

    • The new author releases his first novel. It's complete, with a beginning, middle and end.
    • Said novel sells well.
    • The author's next novel is released. It turns the first book into part one of a trilogy, and has a beginning and a middle.
    • The final book in the trilogy is released. With the ending for book two.
    • The author's next book is released. It's part one of a trilogy. It only has a beginning.
    • Second part of trilogy is released.
    • Third part of trilogy is released.
    • Repeat last three steps, sometimes adding more books to the series.
  • In addition:
    "Neanderthal's are humans, just of a difference species or subspecies"

    I mean come on...

    if I was a different species than you and you were human then how could I also be human?

    I would be a dog and I'd pee on your lawn.

  • Settting up books so that they lend themselves to sequels is what makes sci-fi the cheesy genre that it is. I don't mind it when it absolutely makes sense but most of the time it's a publishing ploy to milk the readers. Until Sci-Fi artists are content to submit their works to stand on their own, the genre will never truly get the respect that it deserves.
  • by fgoya ( 67408 ) on Thursday October 28, 1999 @06:36AM (#1581678)
    IIRC, Shiva is much more than the god of destruction. He is usually depicted holding a flower in one of his (many) hands, and is considered a consummate artist, musician, and lover, as well. In most world religions, gods who bring destruction do so only to prepare for new creation.

    (And what's wrong with an author using this name to pull in such a rich cultural reference, anyway?)
  • Just because Bear creates such a society doesn't mean he's advocating it. He may just be extrapolating what he sees of current trends out a couple of years.

    Robert Heinlein wrote Starship Troopers, in which the charachters lived in a fascist state. A Lot of the book was spent on *why* that state was the way it was and what rights it and the citizens within it had, but Heinlein wasn't advocating such a state; he firmly believed in freedom of the individual. He had simply created an interesting idea and was exploring the possibilities; that's what fiction authors are supposed to do.

    I see in the preview I mispelled something in my sig.. Natch :)
  • Coincidentally, I just read Darwin's Radio last night. It is interesting to compare and contrast this book with Bear's much-earlier novel Blood Music. Both are about genetics, and about what comes after homo sapiens. Darwin's Radio is well-written and has better characterization than Blood Music (if you disagree, then reread the "Suzy" parts of BM). Blood Music is no less plausible as a "hard sf" premise, but is much more wildly speculative. In short, Blood Music is the work of a young writer full of passion and energy. Darwin's Radio is the work of a mature, more conservative writer.

    I much preferred Blood Music.

  • Hard science fiction is NOT hard science fiction if it violates the currently accepted laws of physics. The fact that many people use the term wrongly is NOT the issure here. (This is the reason the term was invented in the first place). The fact that they are works of fiction as far as the story goes does not give them the liberty to go against accepted physical laws. If hard science fiction were soft I'd be reading Stephen King or fantasy novels...

    Hajo
  • Well-said, sir. Moderator...
    --
  • I'm afraid you missed the point. It doesn't matter how many different species of organisms there are, the biomass of organisms is much more highly organized (and thus has lower entropy) than the same quantity of chemical elements as water, nitrogen, carbon dioxide and the oxides and salts of the various trace elements. Life is not becoming less organized with time, it is becoming more organized the more of it there is.

    You can disprove the creationist version of thermodynamics right in your own home. All you need is some potting soil (preferably sterilized so you have no other living stuff in there), some seedling plants, and a big bottle or balloon you can seal adequately for use as a terrarium. (A 5-gallon springwater bottle will probably do.) Put the seedlings into the bottle, give them adequate light, and keep them from overheating. Add water and carbon dioxide as needed, and some inorganic plant food (nitrates, phosphates, potash) now and then.

    After a while your seedlings will have turned this input of purely inorganic, high-entropy stuff (and light) into a lot of low-entropy plant mass and oxygen. The grown plant is a lot more organized than the matter which went into it. So doesn't this violate the 2nd Law? No. The ignored input is sunlight, which has very low entropy. Some part of the sunlight which is absorbed by the plant's leaves gets turned into useful energy, but the rest of it comes out as heat. A given amount of energy in the form of heat at room temperature has much higher entropy than the same amount of energy as sunlight. So the Earth merrily absorbs low-entropy sunlight at the effective temperature of about 5700 Kelvin, and radiates high-entropy heat at the effective temperature of about 250 Kelvin. The Earth is constantly creating and radiating entropy, and some of that entropy has been extracted from disordered matter when it is organized by some process (biological or otherwise). So there's nothing at all in thermodynamics which rules out the increasing organization of life over time, so long as the Sun continues to shine.
    --

  • Hey AC, the Second Law of Thermodynamics does not apply to evolution because the Earth is not a closed control volume...

    Correct.

    ...you have scads of energy pouring in from the Sun, a far lesser amount emanating from the Earth...

    Almost exactly the same amount emanating from the Earth, but at a lower temperature.

  • My Favorite Greg Bear book was hardly Hard Sci-Fi.
    Songs of Earth and Power is almost totally Fantasy.
  • Also I've seen arguments that life is an effective assistant to entrophy. How much energy is lost converting sunlight to chemical (photosynthesized) energy? How much energy and order is lost converting plant mass to animal mass? I don't recall the exact numbers, but it takes an extraordinary amount of plant mass to produce even a small amout of animal mass. The resulting waste product is also nicely disordered.
  • I had the same feelings about the ending of Darwin's Radio as the reviewer. When I loaned my copy of the book to my girlfriend I told her that I thought the ending was not entirely what I would have liked. Not bad, just not what I had hoped for.

    Being hooked into the Seattle SF scene, my girlfriend asked around and found out that Greg Bear does have a sequel planned. Meaning that the ending is intended to set up the next part of the story.

    Jack

  • Take Ringworld for example. As an abtract idea, it's brilliant! An artifical ecosystem that offers the benefits of a planet on a huge scale. The first novel however, left glaring holes in it's implemenation. (The ring world is unstable! The ring world is unstable!) Erosion, instability, and numerous other snafus were detected and addressed in the next novel (which also contained it's share of snafus)

    From what I vaguely remember from the novels, I thought that the "Ringworld" was a bunch of free-floating trees with "orbital correction" capabilities. I know that a static "ring" around the sun is unstable, but given that the "ring" in those novels is actually dynamic, doesn't that make it theoretically possible for it to hold itself together?

  • Yep. For people who are interested in this subject and want some harder facts about the evolution and history of mankind, I would suggest "The Third Chimpanzee" (i.e.: us) by Jared Diamond (He's a prof at UCLA, I forget in what). This non-fiction book is very readable and gives some astounding (IMHO) insights into where we came from and how we came to be as we are. Better written than a lot of SF, and with more hard facts, although not everybody would agree with him. YMMV.
  • Sheesh. Its just an acronym, which many times are made to actually have some kind of meaning. MADD, DARE, whatever. Who really cares, its a book. How could you be so irritated by something so trivial?
  • Not to defend Gould completely, who maybe has some problems in his logic, but there ARE literal explosions of new species. There are at least two specific points in time that it happened - one, when life first developed (no competition, or little competition for resources) - and 65 million years ago when mammals evolved and dinosaurs went poof. I don't know if you'd consider the last an 'explosion' because only a small subset of life changed character, but evolutionarily speaking a line that had previously remained relatively constant (the dinosaurs) evolved into bizarre new forms.

    I don't really understand Bear's point from the review - is he saying that nature forces evolutionary events, or that wide, catastrophic events crop up every so often and force a change? The former smacks of anthropomorphism... the latter I can buy.

    SA
  • Forget it. To recap, their machine rotates some gas (eg, air), pushes a piston into the partial vacuum at the center (presumably), then slows it down, and retracts the piston, thereby cooling the gas (pushing the piston in is less work than getting it out again). They conveniently ignore the fact that even if one ignores the friction between the gas molecules, which they'll not be able to do, slowing down the gas is going to be more work than speeding it up. Therefore the Second Law still holds. Too bad for the shareholders...
  • So, do you consider "Romantic Fiction" to be an inherent contradiction too, simply because it doesn't take you out to dinner and send you flowers? :-)

    -Andy
  • Can't remember author, but book (which i enjoyed) involved biologist who takes revenge on society by unleashing a disease that only kills women.
  • I know /. has been doing this for a LONG time, and I certainly don't have a problem with Cmdr. Taco and company getting a little bit of money off the books they review.

    However, given /.'s highly political stance on software patents (and that of its readership) is perhaps a different bookseller in order? I personally have sworn off Amazon as long as they insist on pursuing their one-click patent. It would be nice to see /. put its money where its mouth is. In fact, it might be very nice if they spearheaded a techie boycott of Amazon on this subject.

  • Making a bit of money on the side is no bad thing, especially if it is tied in with something like this, that has to do with the whole nerdy-sci-fi thing. How else do you expect Slashdot to stay alive? I'd do it if I were them. A few comments on this, books dealing with things like this I really hate. If we haven't changed in the last few million years we've been here, why should we anytime soon? By the way, I'm as Creationist, and I guess I'm kinda biased, though.
  • [....] "SHEVA" is a obvious anagram of "Shiva" [....]

    SHEVA = AEHSV

    SHIVA = AHISV

    AEHSV != AHISV

    Or does "anagram" also mean "variant spelling" in some world?

    I agree with the hundreds of other posters who noted that people love to give cheesy allusive names to things -- that's certainly the way it works in the computer world.

  • Actually if you think about evolution on a broader scale, it is a development of things from a more orderly state into one with greater disorder or entropy. Think about the origions of life on this planet; something along the lines of a protist. Now look at the diversity of life that we have today...all coming from that origional protist like "organism." So, this in fact is works right along with the Second Law, being that things tend to go toward a state of greater entropy. My two cents....
  • Try "Queen of Angels"


    I felt it to be the most thought provoking of all his books.

    Nanotech with the therapied and AI..

Hard work never killed anybody, but why take a chance? -- Charlie McCarthy

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