cover of Darwinia, by Robert Charles Wilson
by Robert Charles Wilson.

A review

A heroic work of quasi-archaistic traditionalism. Or, A heroic parable of "anti-revisionism". Which is it? hard to say. But a work on the great scale....

...although, unlike other reviewers, I'd say: Rather than H. G. Wells, the influence here is that of E.E. "Doc" Smith. Evil on a scale above that of the entire universe is presented. The realization of the existence of this particular evil - basically, that of revisionist historicism - gives the work a somewhat gray and downbeat tone. And, as in Smith's novels, there are 'Lensman' figures: the heroes who battle said evil with endless self-sacrifice.

Revisionism sounds a rather odd and unthrilling target. But, as with the Gray Man in 'Gypsies', Robert Charles Wilson has begotten a mythic image . . . I'll try not to spoil the suspense, but it seems to have influenced, partly, the movie 'Titan A.E.' - but Wilson's portrayal is richer, less abstract, more earthly.

( Be warned: in this book, you will come across an amiably evil yet somehow quite believable Washington (D.C.) figure, sketched with disrespectful relish; [just the sort of person who might, somehow, have walked the corridors of Reagan's Pentagon, despite its great quota of fine people.] Once again, as in 'Gypsies', R.C.W. skips south into an alternate U. S. capitol city - but one with real meatiness and flavor. Not the one you meet with in Rosslyn or on the Key Bridge, nor on the National Mall, but rather one that lurks in popular beyond-the-Beltway concepts of the U. S. Government, where the somewhat grim architecture of Smithson's Castle, the Dept. of Agriculture arch, and the archetypic Evil Beauraucrat are overindulged in for the sake of the story. [ Trust me: real Washington never resembles this, except in the fantasies of its stupider inhabitants! ] )

"Historical Revisionism" ?   I'm not giving anything away about the plot: It begins with the premise that, in the pre-World-War-I era (about 1910, to clue in the ignorant) the entire continent of Europe vanishes magically and is replaced with an outrageously exotic uninhabited realm which, despite the remnants of European colonialism attempting to re-inhabit it, is soon shown to be a realm of wonders and terrors.

All this somehow ( in my view ) reflects the ethos of Wilson's home nation Canada: a spacious realm of sparsely polyglot but basically European-derived colonizations. A little France (Quebec), a lesser Venice / Amsterdam (Toronto), . . . well, perhaps not. Maybe I overimagine the resemblance. But the not just weird but unlikely biota of this new Europe - since when do snakes have fur? - is reminiscent of Canadian Charles de Lint's convergently Celtic-Amerindian fantasies and the quiet uncanniness of the great North Country of the American supercontinent.

Loss of more than life, loss even of remembrance and the commonly factual .... join Robert Charles Wilson as he ideologically fights, but also acknowledges the partial inevitability of   great   loss,  in a fantastic and terrible tale analogous to M. P. Shiel at his best.

[ Review (c) R. Hess, September 6, 2000. ]

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