Eleven years have passed since SHEVA, an ancient retrovirus, was discovered in human DNA—a retrovirus that caused mutations in the human genome and heralded the arrival of a new wave of genetically enhanced humans. Now these changed children have reached adolescence…and face a world that is outraged about their very existence. For these special youths, possessed of remarkable, advanced traits that mark a major turning point in human development, are also ticking time bombs harboring hosts of viruses that could exterminate the “old” human race.
Fear and hatred of the virus children have made them a persecuted underclass, quarantined by the government in special “schools,” targeted by federally sanctioned bounty hunters, and demonized by hysterical segments of the population. But pockets of resistance have sprung up among those opposed to treating the children like dangerous diseases—and who fear the worst if the government’s draconian measures are carried to their extreme.
Scientists Kaye Lang and Mitch Rafelson are part of this small but determined minority. Once at the forefront of the discovery and study of the SHEVA outbreak, they now live as virtual exiles in the Virginia suburbs with their daughter, Stella—a bright, inquisitive virus child who is quickly maturing, straining to break free of the protective world her parents have built around her, and eager to seek out others of her kind.
But for all their precautions, Kaye, Mitch, and Stella have not slipped below the government’s radar. The agencies fanatically devoted to segregating and controlling the new-breed children monitor their every move—watching and waiting for the opportunity to strike the next blow in their escalating war to preserve “humankind” at any cost.
Darwin’s Children, Greg Bear’s follow-up to Darwin’s Radio, is top-shelf science fiction, thrilling and intellectually charged. It’s no standalone, though. The plot and characters are certainly independent of the previous novel, but the background in Darwin’s Radio is essential to nonbiologists trying to understand what’s going on. The next stage of human evolution has arrived, announced by the birth of bizarre “virus children.” Now the children with the hypersenses and odd faces are growing up, and the world has to figure out what to do with them. The answer is evil and all too human, as governments put the kids in camps to protect regular folks from imagined dangers. Mitch and Kaye, scientists whose daughter Stella is swept up in the fray, become unwillingly involved in the politics that erupt around the issue of the new humans. Harrowing chases, gun battles, epidemics, and tense meetings about civil rights ensue, all brilliantly narrated. But just when you think you’ve got the book figured out, Bear throws a massive curveball by introducing… religion. That’s right, a good old-fashioned epiphany, plopped down in the middle of a hard science fiction novel. But even skeptical readers will be swept along with Kaye as she tries to deal with what’s happening to her and how it relates to the fate of her daughter’s species. Keep reading past the words that make you uncomfortable—the hot science, the cool spirituality—and you’ll be rewarded with a story of complete and moving humanity. —Therese Littleton