Time Travel Book Reviews
Robert Charles Wilson's Darwinia explores an alternate earth where the European continent, in 1912, is suddenly transformed overnight into a primordial jungle with all signs of human existence wiped from the map. This miracle, believed by many to be divine sign from above, is named Darwinia as a slight to Darwin's principles of evolution.
The first third of the Darwinia reads in many respects like a more intriguing and plausible version of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World as we follow a young photographer Guildford Law, and the members of the Finch Expedition sent from America to explore the interior of the mysterious continent in 1920. The expedition's journey unfolds against a backdrop of political wrangling between American interests who believe Darwinia should be open to all for resettlement and expatriate Europeans who argue that they have some inherent claim to their former homelands.
Towards the end of the first of three sections of the book it is revealed that not all is what it seems as Guildford and several of his companions begin to have visitations from ghostly doppelgangers. These alternate selves appears as World War I infantrymen, which Guildford and the others do not immediately understand the significance of since World War I was avoided in this alternate universe due the miracle of Darwinia.
The shift in tone of the story is seamless, but the transition from the Lost World adventure story to the author's otherworldly explanation for what is happening may be off-putting to some. I for one went in with an open mind and was pleasantly rewarded by blend of alternate history, science fiction, and fantasy that Wilson blends together in Darwinia.
The strength of Darwinia as a novel lies in Wilson's characters and his story telling ability. Instead of using Darwinia the continent as a backdrop to exclusively tell a story of exploration and adventure, Wilson instead chooses to use Darwinia and its existence as an opportunity to explore the characters and human nature in general. I was appreciative of the author's effort to explain the miracle of Darwinia instead of leaving it a mystery. While you can still tell a good story without explaining the mystery - (See my review of Eric Flint's 1632 for an example) - I feel it's a better story with a plausible explanation.
Darwinia is so full of wonderful surprises and revelations that to discuss the plot in too much detail here would be a disservice to the reader who best appreciate Wilson's talent first hand.
I recently bought Robert Charles Wilson's novel the Chronoliths that also deals with aspects of time travel that I hope to read and review in the near future.
Review Posted 2002-02-07
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