Darwin's Radio by Greg Bear ReviewDel Ray, September 1999.
Hardcover, 496 pages.
Mitch Rafelson, a archaeologist known for his wild theories, makes a striking discovery on an expedition in the Alps. He discovers three frozen corpses in a cave high in the mountains -- a Neanderthal couple with a modern human baby (Homo sapiens sapiens). However, Mitch's discoveries and beliefs are not readily accepted by the scientific community. Meanwhile, Kaye Lang, a renowned virologist, is called in to investigate a grave of mass murders in the Republic of Georgia. Here she finds the bodies of pregnant mothers that were murdered in an incident that she determines must have occurred only a few years ago. However, the local government shuts down the investigation before very much can be learned. Back in the U.S., Lang is complimented for her research on HERV (human endogenous retrovirus) and she becomes a national celebrity, especially within in the scientific community and she is considered in the running for the Nobel Prize. However, things quickly turn on her, as her husband commits suicide and she begins to be cursed for bringing her theories to the surface just as the outbreak of Sheva is beginning. Sheva is considered to be an infectious HERV, and Kaye Lang is caught up an unfortunate bought of "blame the messenger" by the media.
Sheva affects pregnant women and mothers lose their initial fetus and then begin developing a second one. It even seems to occur in some women who claim they have not had a sexual partner. Sheva also has additional effects, including the development of a strange facial mask which begins to form on both the male and female during the second pregnancy. As society, religious groups and the government begin to panic and fight amongst themselves as Sheva numbers rise, Kaye Lang and Mitch are determined to stick to their radical theories to determine what is happening to the human race -- no matter what the risk.
Greg Bear combines his talent for creating realistic characters with his knack for writing winning hard science fiction to offer this well-written and exciting SF tale. Bear pulls cutting edge developments in biology and virology into the novel and includes a short biological primer and scientific glossary in the back of the book, so readers can look up concepts such as HERV, phage, retrovirus and sequencing. Darwin's Radio is a wonderful human interest story and biological thriller that illustrates how little we really now about evolution and how vulnerable we are to nature's predetermined paths. Highly recommended.
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