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RE: Evolution in science fiction

Someone already mentioned 'Darwin's Radio' (Greg Bear, not Benford) which
describes a punctuation event being engineered in response to widespread
physiological stress by gene networks communicating through mutagenic
reactivated endogenous retroviruses (and a main character being a
palaeoanthropologist), and the same author did 'Vitals' with
mind-controlling microbes. Ambitious stuff, in my opinion not entirely
successful but worthy.

Generally, I suspect the biggest problem with evolution by natural selection
(in terms of narrative) is that it's on such a grand scale; individuals are
too ephemeral for their stories to amount to a hill of beans in this crazy
ol' world. You can start with a Tolstoyan cast of characters, but almost all
of them end up in the grinder, which is hard on the reader's soul. Or you
can pick an eventual winner at the start, in which case their exceptional
talents or continued lucky survival as selection relentlessly prunes their
competition will perhaps inevitably be felt as implausibly unlikely. The
latter approach is seen in many stories including Jean Auel's series (which
degenerates into soapy Pleistocene porn), and something like it in Doug
Adams' 'Hitchhiker's Guide' (which of course is comedy). Bakker's 'Raptor
Red' is actually a very good example, in that it really is about evolution
rather than just using it as a plot device.

Dr John D. Scanlon, FCD
Riversleigh Fossil Centre, Outback at Isa
"Get this $%#@* python off me!", said Tom laocoonically.

-----Original Message-----
From: Jeff Hecht [mailto:jeff@jeffhecht.com] 
Sent: 09 July, 2009 2:57 AM
To: Dinosaur mailing list
Subject: Evolution in science fiction

I'm going to be moderating a panel this weekend at a science fiction
convention called Readercon in suburban Boston. The title is "Is Darwinism
Too Good for SF?" and it's asking if evolutionary theory "has been _too
good_, too unassailable and too full of explanatory power, to leave the
wiggle room where speculative minds can play" that science fiction writers
need to write memorable stories. Are there evolutionary counterparts of time
travel and faster-than-light? 

I know a few science-fiction fans are on the list, and I'm curious how you'd
answer those questions. Stephen Jay Gould's idea that trying to repeat
evolution wouldn't produce the same results comes to my mind. What comes to

Jeff Hecht, science & technology writer
jeff@jeffhecht.com or jhecht@nasw.org
525 Auburn St., Auburndale, MA 02466 USA
tel. 617-965-3834  http://www.jeffhecht.com