Robert Charles Wilson writes enjoyable, twisty sc-fi and Darwinia fits into his usual pattern of work. It’s a straight forward book that I know I’ve read before, but I had no memory of any of the twists or the plot. I guess that’s part of my general sense of okayness with the book — it’s not groundbreaking or revelatory, but it is competent and fun, and not everything is going to be Ursula K LeGuin. You’ll probably like it but won’t remember it in a year. I would say that Wilson is better than a lot of other writers in the field in that he has big ideas and then can usually carry them through to a satisfying conclusion, and I often find that SF/F writers can have trouble sticking the landing. I feel like he tends to be overlooked because he’s been pumping out decent books for years, but I never see him on any lists of well-known writers. Anyway, just a plug to try a Robert Charles Wilson book if you want some decent escapist SF. I always feel in good hands with him (except in the sequels to Spin, but that’s a whole other review).
In 1912, Europe suddenly vanishes and is replaced by an untouched continent full of alien plants and animals. The White Star line ships, expecting to see Ireland, are instead greeted with everyone in Europe being gone and a completely unfamiliar landscape. The book follows the consequences that result, both in terms of politics and more personal on the ground reaction. The main character is Guilford Law, a photographer who comes along on a scientific expedition to the new continent of “Darwinia.” Secrets are revealed, lots of twists, etc.
The thing that keeps this a B level book for me is my personal frustration with the direction of the narrative — I think the idea of a whole continent disappearing and being replaced with an unsettled land full of new creatures is so good, and I wanted more alternative history. Wilson goes very SF as he reveals the plot, and I guess I wanted more of a Turtledove alternate history. But that was a personal issue, and the overall narrative is satisfying and comes to a good conclusion.
Warnings for: body horror, gory murder, creepy insects, cosmic horror type elements.