Science Book a Day Interviews Greg Bear


Special thanks to Greg Bear for answering 6 questions about his recently featured book – Darwin’s Radio

Greg’s Homepage:

#1 – What was the impetus for writing Darwin’s Radio?

For over a decade–since writing BLOOD MUSIC in the 1980s, and probably since reading Arthur Koestler in the sixties and seventies–I’d been rethinking the idea of evolution. I had major issues with the over-application of “randomness” as the principal force behind variation in species, and in BLOOD MUSIC, came up with the then-controversial idea of read-write DNA and a computational system operating within the cell, and by extension, within a species or even an ecosystem. In other words, I was heading towards the idea that DNA is smarter than we are, that nature as a whole tends to be a problem-solving, i.e. “thinking” system. Rather neatly and with horrifying effect, retroviruses entered the news about the same time BLOOD MUSIC was published and the novel version was being written. HIV became a major news story. Eventually, while reading Lynn Margulis and Richard Dawkins and Stephen Gould and of course Darwin and Dobzshansky–so many wonderful minds!–I realized I had a sort of solution, or at least a compelling theory, that gave viruses a substantial role in human evolution. And that led me to write DARWIN’S RADIO.

#2 – Your book is commended for the credibility of the premise of a virus turning out to be part of an evolutionary process. How important is it for the science in your books to be accurate?

For me, very important. I not only have to write a good story, with good characters, but I have to convince experts that I’ve studied their subjects with respect and an eye to creative re-imagination.

#3 – Your book is now 15 years old. Has the science in the book stood the test of time?

Remarkably well, I think. Many of the major premises of BLOOD MUSIC and DARWIN’S RADIO are now mainstream, and research conducted since the late 90s has expanded our understanding of just how adaptive and intricate and “intelligent” the roots of nature and evolution are.

#4 – You have been writing sci-fi for some time! How has your writing changed over the years?

Gotten better, I hope! Whether I operate in phases or periods isn’t exactly clear to me. I’ve tended to be all over the map in terms of interests and subjects since I was a kid, and I still am. Today. I’m working on more concise novels based on a re-examination of classic themes, such as starships (HULL ZERO THREE) and now, combat in space, WAR DOGS, which is coming out this October from Orbit and Orion. I recently finished a trilogy (CRYPTUM, PRIMORDIUM, SILENTIUM) that laid down the early history of the universe explored in the HALO games. That was terrific fun. I was able to work with the wonderful 343 team and explore so many classic science fiction themes, plus add some new wrinkles. Some of that material formed a foundation for the immensely popular game, HALO 4: CRYPTUM.

#5 – What has the response been to Darwin’s Radio?

Very gratifying. I almost immediately started getting positive reviews in major science journals, such as NATURE, and then began or continued long-term communications with many scientists working in the field, which has tended to keep me on my toes over the years. The most significant modern topic in genetics that I skirted in DARWIN’S RADIO is epigenetics, the overlying controls that push or subdue expression of genes and gene complexes–the tune that gets played on the keyboard of the genes. That’s become hugely important, but doesn’t negate the ideas in DARWIN’S RADIO–merely expands and contributes to them.

#6 – Are you working on any new projects/books you can tell us about?

I’m in the final third of the second book in the WAR DOGS trilogy, KILLING TITAN. After that, one more volume–title yet to be determined–and by then, maybe something will get serious in media, where we’re working on five or six big projects with some very significant players.

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