Location: Provo, UT
Dear Mr. Bear,
I am taking the Science and Literature course at BYU that I'm sure my classmates have mentioned to you in other messages.
I found Darwin's Radio to be very thought provoking. I've been thinking about how egocentric humans are. As a human, I'll use the pronoun we, but I realize that by using this collective pronoun I am indicting myself as well. We are self-centered, and I think that the depiction you give of paleontological and biological research shows this well. We constantly are trying to defend our position in the present as the logical, rational life form that can create technology and use the resources of the world to our advantage. We defend this position by defining what is not us in relation to ourselves. We are threatened by the past and the possibility that we are not as different from neanderthals as we originally imagined ourselves to be. There are various reactions to this threat from the past: we label it to be different from us or we appropriate it and use it as justification for our central position.
You show that the future is also a great threat to mankind's centralism. The characters label SHEVA as a disease, and use all of their resources to stop the changes that it will cause. Their failures and stopping it threatens and challenges their knowledge and ability to use the revelation of the virus to their advantage. The characters fear the disease as a threat to their existence as they are in the present. Thus, they fear the future as a threat to their central position.
It seems to me that you present a very pessimistic outlook on whether or not we can escape this desire to be central. As the novel proceeds, the reader is forced to realize that the characters that were central to the novel are just peripheral characters; they are not mainstream, in fact they are marginalized renegades. The fact that Stella Nova meets the other homo sapiens novus and wants to be with people like her shows this human need to feel centralized by being among people like her, even though she is theoretically more advanced than us. Does this mean that evolution cannot get rid of this desire for centrality?
Furthermore, Stella spends no time without language. I've been reading a lot lately about how language creates the subject "I," and that the very structure of language requires the different between the I and the you, or any other for that matter. The fact that Stella takes no time to acquire the perception of that difference makes her instantly self-aware and conscious of her differences and her existence as an individual. Granted, she is able to speak with multiple voices simultaneously, but this still requires an other, a listener at very least. What positives do you see arising from the immediate language abilities that Stella has?
Thanks for any comments that come to mind, and for sharing your thoughts on mankind in your novel.
From: Greg Bear
Thanks, Leisa! Sounds like a great discussion going on in your class--and a very thoughtful response from you. Being a social animal pretty much requires some form or another of "tribal" thinking--family, neighborhood, church, nation, world. Because of our need to fit into the most immediate social group, to get paid, raise and educate our children, seek medical help, overcome our traumas, etc., we react--often negatively--to challenges to that social group, whether justified or not. These challenges and our reactions, in a healthy society, add up to a balance which benefits the greatest number. The society becomes unhealthy (and unstable) when one individual or group perpetually benefits while others perpetually suffer.
One of our greatest problems remains communication within our groups--and with other groups outside of our immediate alliances. Stella Nova and her peers are not necessarily smarter or superior to us, individually-but they are much more sensitive to what is being communicated by others. They are more efficient at this essential part of being social--interacting and expressing needs and opinions.
Not perfect, just better talkers... And listeners! (And--probably the most dangerous new talent--they know when another member of their group is lying. Instinctively. Conversely, to lie for one's own selfish advantage causes an individual to feel real pain.)
Location: New South Wales, Australia
Or perhaps, Leisa, evolution is about humankind receiving ego-consciousness and developing it to higher levels. Being able to say "I" is humankind's crowning achievement thus far in evolution- it's just that these beings who can say "I" haven't overcome desire (among other things) yet!