the Little Red Reviewer

Why This Book Works So Well

Posted on: June 12, 2016

You ever notice that some books really work, others work relatively ok, and some just don’t quite work?  And those that work, you just can’t put them down!  Maybe when I say “it works”, what I mean is pacing,  I’m not really sure what I mean, actually.


Well, right now, I’m reading a book that really works – Darwin’s Radio, by Greg Bear.  Darwin’s Radio came out  in 1999, and won the Nebula in 2000 and was nominated for the Hugo, Locus, and Campbell awards.   As I was zipping through the first 80 pages, I realized I wanted to know why this book works as well as it does. Is it the pacing? The characters? The presentation? The science? The all of the above? I wanted to pick it apart and figure it out.

darwins radio works

I’m about a third of the way through Darwin’s Radio, and this is what I’ve come up with so far:
– The first thing I noticed was how much showing Bear does, and how little telling. Very early on, a character has a mountain climbing accident, and wakes up in a hospital. Bear doesn’t give us a description of the man’s injuries, but the way that other people treat him gives us a pretty good picture of the state this guy is in.  Instead of describing the picture, Bear paints one, and lets the reader look at the painting and get information that way.  It’s up to the reader to decide how much they want to see.


– The info isn’t dumped. This is a hard science thriller with lots of genetics, anthropology, molecular biology, the study of viruses and diseases, how bacteria works, how our bodies fight off diseases and how early mankind might have fought off diseases and probably more science stuff that I haven’t gotten to yet. It’s fascinating as hell, but way over my head. None of it is dumped.  Most of it is presented through dialog, with the old trick of “Let me tell you what our team has been doing in the lab these last two weeks” type conversations. Is that a trick? Sure it is. But it gets your reader a lot of information in an accessible and non-info-dumpy way. And hey, now I have just enough knowledge to sound like I know what I’m talking about next time I’m at the doctor’s office.
– So far, there’s been zero action. No chase scenes, no fights, no nothing. Which is a little weird, since a lot of recent books I’ve read have super intense action scenes as a way to get the reader hooked on all that 100% pure awesomesauce. This book is all scientists and politicians and others talking about things, and trying to figure stuff out. The “action” is in how fast their ideas are transmitted.  They bounce ideas off of each other (typically while learning their funding is about to be cut), and the fast pace comes when their brain is moving faster than their mouth, and the ideas tumble out  . . .and it’s totally cool.
– So we’ve got all these characters who are trying to solve the problem from different angles, and everyone has slightly different information to share, or not.  But us readers have *all* the information.  This is where the tension comes from.  I know that this guy knows this one thing, and this other lady knows this other thing, and these jerks over here know something else. So omg, when are they going to share what they know!! Because if they don’t, this horrible other thing is going to happen!


Gah!  I gotta go read this book!
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is a book that fucking works.

10 Responses to "Why This Book Works So Well"

Oh, well, I really must read this!


How to Write A Compelling Book: 101 XD

Great post! I’m with you info dumps: much better then are put into the characters conversation. Having the narrator stop to tell you facts, especially if it is a real science/tech dump, can make it feel like the whole plot has come to a stop so you can learn this one thing. But if an author can put it into a dialog, the plot keeps it moments, every if much more smooth, and it doesn’t even feel like an “info dump” – it just another part of the story.


I mostly agree, though sometimes it’s nice to get a little bit of info straight up, up front, so at least you, the reader, knows where you are and what the hell is going on.

I’ve had mixed luck with Greg Bear’s books. Some I love, others leave me thinking “meh”.


I like that happy medium between a big infodump right at the start with ALLTHEWORLDBUILDING (which is like, every high fantasy book, ever), and the author dumping you into the deep end (hello Iain Banks!). Happy medium is pretty hard to find.


Someone must have cleaned out their Greg Bear recently, because I found this and the Forge of God books at Goodwill the other day. I was going to pass on Darwin’s Radio because of the near-future thriller look, but grabbed it based on your tweet the other day.


I have Forge of God somewhere, but I’ve never read it. Keep in mind, this is “near future”, but it was written in 1999. so it takes place in like . . .2003. the internet exists, but smartphones and social media don’t exist. It’s funny, people call their home answering machine to pick up their messages, and use pay phones! and cash!


Pay phones! Awesome. I read Forge of God back in JHS and remember liking it. It’s on my reread list, along with stuff like Poul Anderson and early William Gibson.


I easily and somewhat fondly recall (oops) those days. It was a big deal when I got my first cordless phone. But then, when I was in high school, we were on a Party Line, and no, it had nothing to do with partying, which wasn’t even a word yet. Sigh. Sometimes I feel SO old.


“we were on a Party Line, and no, it had nothing to do with partying”
you tell that to kids these days, and they just don’t believe ya. 😉


[…] talked about this book a little while ago, about how it worked so damn well. I finished the novel shortly after posting that blog post, it […]


join the conversation

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow me on Twitter!

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 2,462 other followers

Follow the Little Red Reviewer on



FTC Stuff

some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
%d bloggers like this: