the Little Red Reviewer

Archive for the ‘Greg Bear’ Category

darwins radio bearDarwin’s Radio, by Greg Bear

published 1999

where I got it: purchased used





I 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 just took me forever to write the actual review!


Pregnant women are losing their babies.  All across the globe, women are miscarrying at staggering rates, some so early in their pregnancies they didn’t even know they were expecting.  When I first read the back cover of Darwin’s Radio, my first thought was “terrible pregnancies? Is this a book about something like Zika?”  Of course it isn’t. Darwin’s Radio was written in 1999, and it won the 2000 Nebula and Endeavor awards.


At first, it’s assumed it’s a virus of some sort that is causing the miscarriages.  CDC Investigator Christopher Dicken is used to travelling the globe, seeing the worst viruses in action.  But this doesn’t act like any virus he’s ever seen.   Meanwhile, molecular biologist Kaye Lang has published a handful of papers on ancient retroviruses found in the human genome, papers that push her to the fringe of academia. Not exactly viruses, these are genetic markers that go into action when triggered. But triggered to do what? And triggered by what?   At the same time, discredited archaeologist Mitch Rafelson has been doing his own secret research, except he doesn’t yet understand what he sees in the mummies in an ice cave.


When Lang is brought in to consult on a mass grave, the wheels start turning in her head, because what she’s seeing doesn’t make sense. Why would a village murder the pregnant wives? And why did the same thing happen 40 years ago? And why are there current reports of mass violence against pregnant women and women who recently miscarriage? This is not how civilized modern civilization acts!


This isn’t a super fast paced book, or an action thriller,  but the speed and intensity comes into play with how fast their ideas and theories take shape, and how fast that information can be shared with others who can put it to good use. Bear fully fleshes out the three main characters Kaye, Christopher, and Mitch, introducing other supportive characters as needed, and educates the reader about genetics and biology through conversation between characters instead of through infodumping.  Bear writes in a way that makes complicated science and biology accessible to any reader. You can go into this book with zero knowledge of genetics, biology, and how diseases work, and come out of it with just enough knowledge to be a bit dangerous.  Don’t get me wrong, this is a science heavy, hard science fiction thriller. But Bear also subtly deals with grief, scientific academia, mob mentalities, and what we talk about when we talk about evolution.

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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.

The Mongoliad, by Neal Stephenson, Greg Bear, Mark Teppo, Erik Bear, Cooper Moo, E.D. deBirmingham and Joseph Brassey

published in April 2012 by 47North

where I got it: purchased new









I’ll buy just about anything with Neal Stephenson’s name on it. Environmental thriller, or multi thousand page epic, if he writes I want to read it, and so far I’ve always been rewarded (even when that reward comes after me wanting to bash my head against the wall). So when I heard about The Mongoliad a while ago, a group project between Neal Stephenson, Greg Bear, and a handful of other talented authors, to say I was excited was a vast understatement. And when I brought that beautiful softly bound grey book home from the bookstore a few weeks ago? Why yes, yes there was singing and dancing. Red was a happy girl indeed.

It’s 1241 and the Crusaders still have a lot of work ahead of them.  C’nan, a scout and Binder of eastern descent, has been sent to assist a secretive order of Knights who are making their way east across northern Europe. In what will become Poland, Onghwe Khan is waiting for more supplies and troops and sets up a fighting circus in the meantime. Christians who participate in the fighting circus have the opportunity to win the freedom of all of Christendom. C’nan and the Knights come across the fighting circus and hatch a plot to rid themselves of the Mongol threat once and for all. I was most interested to learn more about C’nan’s binding skills, as it is implied early on that this is very important in the grand scheme of things.

It’s 1241 and Khagan Ogedei, son of Ghengis Khan, is slowly drinking himself to death. His brothers and sons are swarming across Asia and Europe, and Ogedei sits, trapped in a palace, besieged by courtiers and ambassadors, when all he wants out of life is the sky above him and a horse beneath him. One of those ambassadors, Gansukh, has been sent by Ogedei’s brother to help the Khagan get his drinking and his life under control. With the help of a beautiful tutor, Gansukh must learn that palace life is even more dangerous than the life of a soldier,  and that Ogedei’s problems are larger than his drinking vessel. Along with Ogedei’s flashbacks of his father, this was the more interesting plotline for me.  In fact, even in the other plot line, the Mongol characters were far more interesting than the Europeans.

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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.