Greg Bear. Del Rey Books, $24 (448pp) ISBN 978-0-345-42333-7
Is evolution a gradual process, as Darwin believed, or can change occur suddenly, in an incredibly brief time span, as has been suggested by Stephen J. Gould and others? Bear (Dinosaur Summer and Foundation and Chaos) takes on one of the hottest topics in science today in this riveting, near-future thriller. Discredited anthropologist Mitch Rafelson has made an astonishing discovery in a recently uncovered ice cave in the Alps--the mummified remains of a Neanderthal couple and their newborn, strangely abnormal child. Kaye Lang, a molecular biologist specializing in retroviruses, has unearthed chilling evidence that so-called junk DNA may have a previously unguessed-at purpose in the scheme of life. Christopher Dicken, a virus hunter at the National Center for Infectious Diseases in Atlanta, is hot in pursuit of a mysterious illness, dubbed Herod's flu, which seems to strike only expectant mothers and their fetuses. Gradually, as the three scientists pool their results, it becomes clear that Homo sapiens is about to face its greatest crisis, a challenge that has slept within our genes since before the dawn of humankind. Bear is one of the modern masters of hard SF, and this story marks a return to the kind of cutting-edge speculation that made his Blood Music one of the genre's all-time classics. Centered on well-developed, highly believable figures who are working scientists and full-fledged human beings, this fine novel is sure to please anyone who appreciates literate, state-of-the-art SF. (Sept.) FYI: Bear has won two Hugos and four Nebulas.
Reviewed on: 08/02/1999