Friday, September 30, 2011

Darwinia by Robert Charles Wilson

In which a chunk of the world is mysteriously transformed in a single event, and explorer/photographer Guilford Law attempts to make sense of it.

This book had it all in terms of things that make me dislike books.  It had characters that I could not care about, it had a setting that took half the book to sort of explain, it had sloppy perspectives and it had jumps in time where decades were skipped.  Most of all it was just confusing and boring though. 

This review will subsequently contain spoilers because I won't recommend this book and can't be bothered to not spoil it!

In Darwinia, one night in the very early 1900s Europe is transformed into a wilderness with totally different, alien  flora and fauna and a total absence of people.  Remaining citizens of earth are freaking out trying to figure out if this transformation was a miracle, a warning from god, or some other catastrophe.  They never seem to figure it out.  And I certainly never did.

The book is mostly about Guilford Law's expedition into the transformed wilderness, his party's pitfalls and their confusing but probably significant discovery.  Chunks are written in third person, other chunks are written, as if from Guilford's journal, in 1st person.  While Guilford is exploring and all that, his wife has a couple of chapters waiting back in civilization for him.  She immediately decides to write him off and run off with another guy.  That didn't do a lot for me either, it's really unclear why her story needed to be included at all.  It didn't add much and just made me rage at her one-dimensional fickleness.  Other random perspectives include demon-ridden men who are up to crazy antics in America in almost completely unrelated plotlines.  Again, totally not sure what the  point was.  Of any of it, really.

Many, many pages are devoted to attempts to explain the setting and the miracle.  Something about a an inter-stellar, inter-temporal, inter-dimensional war between god-like space entities and Skynet?  Maybe?  I don't even know.  For some reason earth is an important battlefield.  Guilford and most other mentioned characters turn out to be important because in an alternate universe they were dead.  Like I said, confusing as balls.

I really don't understand the point of this book.  I think I was reading it like an adventure/mystery type story about Guilford Law which is probably incorrect and totally insufficient.  None of the context made sense to me at all.  I know I am missing the significance of this book, but I don't really care.  Significance needs to slap me in the face to make up for an otherwise non-compelling book.

Not totally sure what else to say about this.  It was lost on me.  I do not recommend it, but would be really interested in discovering what others see in it!

2/5 stars


  1. The purpose of his wife's scenes was to demonstrate the consequences of Guilford's all-consuming obsession with his work in Darwinia. The changing perspectives are because at the end, the whole book is about the nature of consciousness and what it means to be able to think and perceive, regardless of whether you are real or part of a computer program. The first half of the book takes so long to set up the setting because it's meant to really demonstrate to the reader how vast this "miracle" is, making the second half of the book more of an impact when you discover it was no miracle at all.

  2. Though if I were to review it today, I'd probably give it 3.5 or 4 stars, since I agree that parts of it were really boring, and a lot of parts didn't become clear to me until many pages later.

  3. Haha warn me next time I'm about to go and read a book that's all set up and philosophy!


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