Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Don't read this

I've had a rather mediocre run with books lately. The Afghan Campaign was decent, but not memorable enough in either direction to merit a blog entry of its own. But my next reading experience, Darwin's Children, has certainly moved me enough to type in a few words while I'm at work.

I like Greg Bear. He's a smart science fiction writer that is heavy on the science. He documents his sources in the appendices of his books, and he's careful to explain exactly where the science ends and where his fiction begins. He is straightforward about his sources, explaining when the theories are considered radical, and even gives a little background about competing ideas. He'll often submit his novels to leading researchers for a fact-check and scientific review before release. In addition to this passion for accuracy, he has a talent for his craft - he develops characters and plots convincingly, even if it does feel somewhat mechanical at times.

I enjoyed the classic space travel in Eon, the hive-mind of bacteria in Vitals, and the sudden change evolution in Darwin's Radio. Thanks to these books, I know much more about viruses, bacteria, phages, DNA, RNA, and evolutionary history than before (ok - "know" might be a bit of a stretch..."have been exposed to a lot of information that I didn't completely understand" is probably more precise.)

So it was natural for me to pick up the sequel to Darwin's Radio. Bear includes a nice review in the beginning so I could catch up without re-reading the first installment. And the story picks up where it left off, with the usual dire warnings about the consequences of fear-mongering and a government that oversteps its bounds. Solid stuff.

But then guess who makes an appearance about halfway through the book?


Yes, God.

It's not a plot device - God doesn't appear to two of the characters in the book for a transparent reason to bring them together - no, it's pretty much a throw-in. In the middle of a book about evolution, with fucking Darwin in the title, God appears for no discernible reason, full of love and understanding and forgiveness and marshmallow streams of smarmy goodness. I felt like I paid $7.99 to be witnessed to.

Listen, Greg, I can get that shit for free if I'd just answer the door when the two clean-cut kids wearing white shirts and ties ring the bell. But I don't. And I'm not going to start. And I'm sure as hell not going to hand them $8 so I can bathe in the sewage that vomits forth from their mouths.

In the appendix to this book, Bear explains that his personal beliefs lie somewhere between Darwin and creationism. Uh-huh. He justifies his insertion of God as another facet of his research - he's relating firsthand accounts of people who were touched and the similarities of their stories. Uh-huh. How this relates to the story of his book goes unexplained.

I understand the temptation, I really do. No one wants to believe that self-consciousness is an accident of nature, and that when our life ends we'll revert to the same state of consciousness we had before we were born, ie: none at all. No one wants to accept that a lifetime of stresses and struggles and dreams and love and achievement ends irrevocably, sometimes randomly, when our existence winks out. But just because you don't want to believe in something, doesn't make it any less true. An undesirable reality shouldn't be trumped by the draw of a desirable fairy tale.

To lose an analytical, scientific mind to the ranks of gawking mystics is always a tragedy. And now I've lost a source of entertainment and information as well. Goodbye, Greg Bear...the rational world will miss your contributions.


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