Robert Charles Wilson’s 1998 novel, Darwinia proved something of a breakthrough for the author. As in his recent Hugo award winner, Spin, the familiar world experiences a fantastic shift of reality.

Title: Darwinia

Author: Robert Charles Wilson.

ISBN: 0-812-56662-9

Buy from: Amazon.com or
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Premise:

In an alternate 1912, Europe disappears, replaced, seemingly, with its equivalent from another reality, where evolution took a very different path. Over the course of the twentieth century the protagonist, a man with memories of his own death in a Great War that never happened, makes unsettling discoveries about the nature of the universe.

High Points:

Robert Charles Wilson creates a bizarre alternate world and then allows everything to follow logically. The reactions of individuals and cultures seem plausible. The effects on science and popular culture track logically from the 1912 we know.

Low Points:

The novel features four “Interludes.” The third and fourth function as chapters; the first two struck me as odd choices. The first one gives away the solution to the novel’s central mystery while that mystery still has the power to captivate us, and it does so through pages of exposition. The second features more Infodump, which follows a chapter in which the protagonist tells us what we need to know in a letter to his wife. I know that Wilson writes about some difficult concepts, but his readers are equal to the task of understanding them without quite so much hand-holding and guidance.

The Scores:

Originality: 5/6. Wilson builds a remarkable alternate earth, and provides explanations for things that should be impossible. Darwinia features many familiar speculative concepts, but the author handles them in an original manner.

Imagery: 6/6 Wilson’s alternate Europe makes many alien worlds from SF seem banal by comparison.

Story: 5/6 The story works best in its mysterious first half The final portion becomes something of a sophisticated videogame, though Wilson handles it effectively.

Characterization: 5/6. The protagonist, in particular, has been rendered well.

Emotional Response: 5/6.

Editing: 5/6.

Overall score: 5/6 Wilson gets points for his remarkable integration of real social trends and popular culture into his alternate history.

In total, Darwinia receives 36 out of 42