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Darwinia: A Novel of a Very Different…

Darwinia: A Novel of a Very Different Twentieth Century

by Robert Charles Wilson

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Reminiscent of such diverse writers as Edgar Rice Burroughs, H. G. Wells, and Philip K. Dick, Darwinia by Robert Charles Wilson is an amazing piece of literary alchemy. Imagine, if you will, a reality where in 1912 Europe transforms into a strange land of nightmarish jungles and alien creatures. This so‑called Miracle is the centerpiece of this fascinating and truly different alternate history.

Young Guilford Law joins an expedition to explore this Darwinia. What they uncover shatters conception of reality and man's destiny in the universe. This book is at the essence of what makes SF wonderful! ( )
  rickklaw | Oct 13, 2017 |
An online friend mentioned that one of her favourite SF writers was Canadian Robert Charles Wilson. I was chagrined that I had not read any of his works and, judging by this book, that is a major hole in my reading life. This book was nominated for the Hugo Award in 1999 and I don't think it is any discredit that it didn't win because the winner that year was Connie Willis' To Say Nothing of the Dog. (As an aside, Robert Sawyer also had a book on the shortlist that year, Factoring Humanity, so it was a good year for Canadian SF.) Wilson has won a Hugo Award for the book Spin and since that book is one the CBC list of 100 Novels that Make You Proud to be Canadian I think I will have to read it soon.

In the alternate history described in this book March of 1912 saw a catastrophic change to Europe. In one night everyone who lived there disappeared and the flora and fauna changed dramatically. The new Europe was christened Darwinia as an homage to Charles Darwin who probably would have wanted to examine the beasts and birds of the new continent. The transformation was hailed by many as a miracle from God and ushered in a new wave of religious fervour in the rest of the world. It also created upheaval in the world's finances. People were thrown out of work and stock markets crashed. Guilford Law was fourteen years old and living in Boston when the world changed. Eight years later, with a wife and young daughter, he joined a scientific expedition led by Preston Finch to explore the interior of the continent. Guilford was a photographer, not a scientist, but he was anxious to see what they could discover. His wife, Caroline, and his daughter, Lilly, were going to stay in London with relatives while the expedition ventured up the river that used to be the Rhine as far as a steamer could take them. After that they would go overland as far as the Alps. Tom Compton who had lived and explored in and around the Rhine for years would guide the expedition. They were well equipped but perhaps not really ready to face the dangers of the "New World" which included men who prayed on unsuspecting travellers. A few members of the team were lost before they even reached the Alps. In the mountains they discovered what appeared to be the ruins of a city but one that did not seem to be built by humans. Guilford and a few others explored it and while they were away from camp it was attacked. Only Guilford, Preston Finch and Tom Compton survived but winter arrived and they had to stay in the mountains. The expedition was given up for lost and Caroline believed Guilford was dead. Yet Guilford lived on, recovered from illnesses and injuries that most men would succumb to. He had disturbing dreams of being a soldier in a field of mud. Then the soldier appeared in his waking life and told him something incredible. Read the book to find out what that was and what happened to Guilford.

Wilson reveals the mechanics of the plot in tiny bits. That was probably wise; if he had started out with the full-fledged explanation at the beginning it would have seemed too improbable. This way the reader's understanding built up incrementally and going from one step to another did not seem improbable. ( )
1 vote gypsysmom | Apr 13, 2017 |
Stellar set-up, disappointing payoff. The first half of this book is intriguing, but the second half belongs to an entirely different book, one that is both dull and implausible.

Also, the only character with any real personality was Guilford (and even Guilford is fairly wooden). Caroline is a cliche and no one else is remotely memorable.

But still it was a great premise, even though the denouement left me feeling a bit deflated. ( )
  gayla.bassham | Nov 7, 2016 |
Hmmhh. I felt non-plused by Darwinia. Unmoved and untouched. It was an odd book but not I felt in a good way. It wasn't a bad book...it just didn't hold together enough for me to have much impact.

It's also hard to tell you much about it without spoilers. But I will say that it felt somewhat disjointed. The initial premise changes radically by the end as we learn why the premise exists. There were many unwieldy premises shoved into the basic story. Imagine Out of Africa with extreme sci-fi premises welded into it. I'd also describe this as feeling roughly like a poor man's Southern Reach (by Jeff VanderMeer) crossed with The Matrix. And beyond the mashup of styles, I also just didn't care about the characters. It's not that Wilson wrote poorly, it's just his characters were rather uninteresting and didn't affect us emotionally. The whole book felt rather cold and distant.

Not much to love nor dislike. Just meh. ( )
1 vote David_David_Katzman | Sep 10, 2016 |
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» Add other authors (4 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Robert Charles Wilsonprimary authorall editionscalculated
Burns, JimCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Charrier, MichèleTraductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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To PNH and TNH, for patience and good advice; Shawna, for believing in my work; and unindicted co-conspirators everywhere (you know who you are).
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Guilford Law turned fourteen the night the world changed.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0812566629, Mass Market Paperback)

In 1912, the entire European continent and all of the United Kingdom mysteriously vanished during the Miracle, replaced by an alien landscape known as Darwinia. Darwinia seems to be a slice of another Earth, one that diverged from our own millions of years ago and took a separate evolutionary path. As a 14-year-old boy, Guilford Law witnessed the Miracle as shimmering lights playing across the ocean sky. Now as a grown man, he is determined to travel to Darwinia and explore its mysteries. To that end he enlists as a photographer in the Finch expedition, which plans to steam up the Rhine (or what was once the Rhine) and penetrate the continent's hidden depths as far as possible. But Law has brought an unwanted companion with him, a mysterious twin who seems to have lived--and died--on an Earth unchanged by the Miracle. The twin first appears to Guilford in dreams, and he brings a message that Darwinia is not what it seems to be--and Guilford is not who he seems to be. --Craig Engler

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:14:34 -0400)

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Wilson joins the Tor list with a breathtaking novel about a very different 20th century that takes its protagonist to a shattering revelation about mankind's destiny in the universe.

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