by Robert Charles Wilson
Tor, ISBN 0-312-86038-2, 1998, 320pp, US$22.95
A book review by Evelyn C. Leeper
Copyright 1998 Evelyn C. Leeper
In S. M. Stirling's ISLAND IN THE SEA OF TIME, the island of Nantucket is hurled back to the Bronze Age via a mysterious "Event." In Greg Bear's DINOSAUR SUMMER, the lost plateau of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's LOST WORLD is real. In Robert Charles Wilson's previous book, MYSTERIUM, our history took a different course and Gnosticism prevailed. DARWINIA seems to be a combination of parts of all four, but ends up very different from all of them.
In 1912, the "Miracle" happens, and Europe as we know (knew) it vanishes, replaced by a primeval continent with virtually identical geography and geology, but different plant and animal life. Apparently it is from a timeline where evolution took a different path. As a result, the history of the world is very different from that point on. (For starters, it's hard to have a World War based in Europe when all the inhabitants of Europe no longer exist.).
Guilford Law signs up with the Finch Expedition to explore the neo-Europe, or Darwinia, as it is called. (This leads to some confusion, as the term "Darwinian evolution" refers specifically to the evolution of the life-forms on Darwinia, not evolution as described by Charles Darwin.) Not only does the expedition run into various dangers (natural and man-made), but several members are haunted by strange dreams that we recognize as being related to their possible lives in our timeline, and Law gradually becomes aware that the struggle is not merely global, but cosmic.
However, this is not so much an alternate history as an analysis of what might cause an alternate history, because in addition to everything else, this is connected somehow with the Archive, a record of all history created by the far future. Wilson uses interludes to try to explain this, but it is such a departure from the main action (at least at the beginning) that it feels very jarring--which is probably the idea. Even though the basic situation is mysterious, the reader *thinks* she understands somewhat what is going on and then Wilson pulls the rug out.
John Clute seems to feel that DARWINIA (along with Wilson's other work) expresses Wilson's feeling of "apartness" that comes from Wilson's being Canadian. While there is a sense of apartness and isolation, I think it is more universal than Clute perceives it as being. There is also a thread reminiscent of Harry Turtledove's BETWEEN THE RIVERS and its echoes of Jaynes's bicameral mind. I realize at this point that it sounds as though DARWINIA is a real hodge-podge, but it isn't. Wilson has taken several themes that have appeared elsewhere recently, but woven them into a tapestry all his own. I definitely recommend DARWINIA.
%T Darwinia %A Robert Charles Wilson %C New York %D June 1998 %I Tor %O hardback, US$22.95 %G ISBN 0-312-86038-2 %P 320pp
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