Moving Mars and Darwin’s Radio by Greg Bear

When I was a teenager my father looked disparagingly at my Dragonlance novels and told me a fact that I still remember to this day. He said that so many books have been written that a single person could not hope to read them all in a lifetime. With that in mind, he said, I should choose my books carefully. This did not stop me from reading Dragonlance books, but it does have an impact on me today.

I do not have much free time these days. If I am going to read a book then I want it to count. To this end, I have decided to pursue books that are either Nebula Award winners or Hugo Award winners. I don’t plan to read them to the exclusion of all else, but these awards do provide a good filter for my literary consumption.

I recently read two books by Greg Bear: Moving Mars (Nebula Award 1994) and Darwin’s Radio (Nebula Award 2000).

I enjoyed Moving Mars more as I felt that both the characters and ideas were more interesting than Darwin’s Radio. Moving Mars follows the remarkable life of Casseia Mujumdar, a native of Mars. The story is told in her first-person point of view and follows her life from her college days protesting against Earth’s encroachment on Mars’ sovereignty, to her eye-opening visit to Earth, and finally to the world-changing decisions she must make when she becomes leader of Mars.

Whenever you read a review of this book, you see praise about the character of Casseia Mujumdar. She is a much richer character than you find in many sci-fi books and the book is richer because of that. Casseia’s first love, the revolutionary physicist Charles Franklin, is also an interesting character and plays a large role in the novel.

As far as sci-fi goes, I believe the book is set in the late 22nd century. Nanotechnology is ubiquitous and can do everything from constructing buildings, to replacing damaged body parts, to altering the human form, to adding enhancements to the human brain. Humans have created sentient computers called Thinkers that benevolently serve in various functions. The moon, Mars, and the asteroid belts have been colonized, though political friction exists between these colonies and Mother Earth. Space flight is common, though limited to sub-lightspeed travel within the solar system. However, Dr. Charles Franklin is on the verge of a discovery that will change everything…

On the other hand, Darwin’s Radio is set in present day. The book is less sci-fi than it is a sort of medical thriller. A blurb on the book’s cover reads: “In the next stage of evolution, humans are history…” Darwin’s Radio deals a lot with genetics, specifically human endogenous retroviruses which are basically parts of our DNA that contain pieces of old viruses. Without giving too much away, the sci-fi aspect of the book centers around the evolution of the human race.

Again, the characters are better than what you find in most sci-fi, but perhaps not as interesting as those in Moving Mars. The book moves a bit slow at first, but picks up after the first 200 pages (it’s about 500 pages long). You get a decent amount of talk about genetics, viruses, and evolution. There’s also some interesting politics and human response to the global-scale events that transpire. Definitely some cools ideas, but it didn’t leave me as affected as I was after reading Moving Mars. I think Darwin’s Radio may have a sequel or two that might be worth checking out one of these days.

Anyway, on to the next award-winner!

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