Darwinia
Robert Charles Wilson
Shortlisted for 1999 Hugo Award.

Cover Darwinia is an alternate history of epic proportions spanning nearly a century. It begins in 1912 with the Miracle that moves the Earth from it's history as we know it to the fantastical. The Miracle is the sudden and instant conversion of Europe into an alien landscape.

The main character is Guilford Law. He is a professional photographer and sets out on an expedition to try and unravel the mystery of the Miracle. He believes there must be a scientific explanation for what has happened to Europe. However he is in the minority. The majority of people believe the conversion of Europe to be divine retribution, hence dubbing it a Miracle.

The reformed Europe becomes dubbed as Darwinia by the press as it as seen as conclusive proof of the fallacy of Darwin's theories. The name sticks, even though expatriate Europeans who survived the conversion wish to rebuild the old Europe in exact detail. This is one of the subplots within the book. The struggle between the expats, who still claim Europe as their own, and the Americans, who want it declared terra nullus so they can move in and exploit it.

Darwinia is a hostile landscape filled with stange plants and animals. One of the first people to set foot on it is bitten by a bug and dies. Over the century the novel spans Darwinia is slowly re-colonised.

While this is happening, America is undergoing a major shift in politics. As a result of the conversion of Europe religious fundamentalist have risen to power. This has vastly altered the nature of American society. Within this system Guilford's antagonist, Elias Vale, is operating.

Guilford and Elias don't come into direct contact with each other until the climax of the book. They each become aware they have an enemy, even though they don't know who it is. They're actions throughout the book slowly bring them together with each struggling to have the upper hand when they finally meet.

But this is only the surface aspect of the novel. The struggle between Guilford and Elias is merely a reflection of the higher struggle at the heart of the book. But to find out what that is you're going to have to read the book.

It is superbly written. Robert expertly captures the tone and narrative style of writing from the early 1900's where the book begins. The book begins with an even and measured pace, but it seemed to rush to the conclusion.

The opening chapters feature a lot of detail, dialogue and internal reflection of the characters. The concluding chapters are almost straight narrative. It's not even clear who's viewpoint is being used. This was a bit disappointing given the quality of writing at the beginning.

One of the highlights of the book is the interludes between the four parts of the novel. They are vastly different in style and concept to the rest of the novel. Yet they put the events in rest of the novel into a different context. It broadens the imaginative scope of the book. I would definitely recommend this book to someone looking for something different to the mainstream style of science fiction.