by Scott Westerfeld
Four Walls Eight Windows
Space opera is alternately the most maligned and the most fascinating sub-genre in the sprawling field of science fiction. When it’s bad, it’s bad, nothing more than a cheap excuse for computer graphics and midnight prop runs. However, when it’s good, it’s gripping — in space, you are free to invent completely new and dangerous situations for your characters, and plots can grow inhumanly Byzantine.
Scott Westerfeld’s Evolution’s Darling belongs in the latter category. Starring an art dealer (who happens to be an artificial intelligence) and a woman without a past (who happens to be a ruthless killer), Evolution’s Darling is a tightly-plotted romp that continually stretches the boundaries of the imagination without once compromising plausibility. Along the way, Westerfeld raises several interesting philosophical points regarding the nature of intelligence and the personality of the soul.
Darling, our central character, evolved from an astrogational system, nurtured to individuality by the attentions of its spaceship captain’s daughter. A couple of hundred years later, Darling is well-known among art circles, and has gathered a fascinating collection of sexual attachments for his artificial body. On board an interplanetary cruiser for the very rich, he meets and becomes involved with Mira, a woman without a clear past and with a mysterious set of motives. Soon, they find themselves united by a passion larger than their desire for wild robot sex.
Evolution’s Darling is a true page-turner, an engrossing tale of a future society bound by freedoms and questions unimaginable today. Westerfeld joins the scant ranks of Iain M. Banks and Neal Stephenson, writers who can not only visualize a compelling future but also come up with a plot that transcends the gadgetry and scenery present to become a truly unique tale of humanity.