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Robert Charles Wilson


US Hardcover

ISBN 0-312-86038-2

320 pages; $22.95

Reviewed by Rick Kleffel © 1999



Science Fiction


Fans of H. P. Lovecraft tend to look for fiction in the peculiar but fertile sub-genre he created in the horror section of their bookstore. This is understandable, because much of his work has a form that is easily linked to Edgar Allen Poe and other horror icons. However, part of what made Lovecraft's fiction more interesting than other pulp fiction of the era was his inclusion of science-fiction concepts into the horror story. Lovecraft even wrote at least one pure science fiction story. In 'Darwinia', Robert Charles Wilson writes a science fiction novel that has the real feel of the best Lovecraft stories, a feeling of awe and terror derived from humanities relationship to the great unknown. It's cloaked in alternate history and even some cyber-fiction ideas, but the terror is always there, hovering just beyond the reader's grasp. It's an impressive and imaginative novel that horror fans and especially H. P. Lovecraft fans should enjoy tremendously.

The novel begins in 1912, when Guilford Law is a fourteen year old boy in Boston. That's the year The Miracle transforms all of Europe, Britain and parts of Asia lush jungle filled with never-before seen life. In 1920, as a young man in a nation that is becoming increasingly a fundamentalist Christian theocracy -- in part because science could never easily explain away The Miracle -- he journeys into Darwinia, the verdant alien landscape is now considered unclaimed territory by an aggressive US government.

It's a great premise, but it's the prose the really brings it all together. Wilson writes carefully, with great control and focus. He creates scenes of wonder and terror that dwell in the reader's mind. He brings the whole world to a turning point and makes a leap that some readers will follow and others may reject. The prose is strong enough to carry his leap from Haggard and Lovecraft country into Phillip K. Dick territory. Yet this is a surrealism that Lovecraft would definitely relate to, and science fictionally, a very logical extension of his ideas.

Though the plot shows signs of strain, it never breaks, due to Wilson's skill as a prose writer and his careful characterizations. 'Darwinia' is not an unqualified success, but there are some spectacular special effect sequences and "prose-emotography" that you just won't get anywhere else. Equally appealing are the packaging and printing. Tor has done a nice job with this book, and deserves to be congratulated. 'Darwinia' is well worth the investment of time and money it takes to explore.