Part of the Gollancz S.F. series
From their beginnings foraging at the feet of the dinosaurs, through the apocalypse of an asteroid strike, through countless years of the day to day life and death dramas of survival of the fittest, to the rise and fall of mankind and the final destruction of earth by the expanding sun, the primates have survived.
This is their story. EVOLUTION follows the ebb and flow of the fortunes of one group of creatures as they change and adapt to their world somewhere on the horn of Africa.
It turns the story of Darwinian evolution into a constant drama, a daily life and death struggle, a heroic story of life's endurance.
It is a story that transcends generations, species, mankind and, in the end, the Earth itself.
In the tradition of Olaf Stapledon and HG Wells.
- Format: Paperback
- Pages: 768 pages
- Publisher: Orion Publishing Co
- Publication Date: 14/08/2003
- Category: Modern & contemporary fiction (post c 1945)
- ISBN: 9780575074095
Showing 1 - 3 of 3 reviews.
Review by BillHall
One of Baxter's books on biological themes. Basically it is a set of short stories, mostly about human ancestors from before the Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary and the extinction of the dinosaurs, with a few of stories about human descendents. As usual for Baxter, his science is generally quite good even when he is working outside his comfort zone (Astrophysics).However, again as seems to be the case with several of his books that I have read, his long term outlook is very pessimistic. Personally, I hope that human rationality will overcome most obstacles. Baxter seems to enjoy exploring the loss of rationality. At times I found the anthropomorphism of non-sentient creatures a bit much as they faced crises in their lives - but that was unavoidable given the nature of the book. In terms of ideas I would give it five stars, but as a good read it was too flat and bordering on boring, thus my overall rating of three stars.In one point, Baxter suggests that a major feature of domestication is a dumbing down of the domesticated animals, and gives domestic chickens as an example. Baxter's picture is probably reasonably true for many domestic animals - e.g., cattle and the like, but chooks are not a good example of the point he is making! As the host for several generations of ISA Brown chickens (hybrid between Rhode Island Red and White Leghorn) purchased as pullets from a small farm where they are only penned. On my 5 acre property the hens have complete freedom (except they return to and are shut in a fox-proof pen overnight). my experience with these birds is that quite the opposite of being bird-brains, hens seem to have evolved great intelligence to stay ahead of and cope with their human hosts. Chickens that are allowed freedom to develop their personalities are at least intellectually equivalent to dogs or cats (we have had several of each on the property). Aside from being totally alert to what humans do, hens are astonishingly alert and attend closely to any gardening activities and keep track of everything going on in the property. When they want feeding they will find a human, coming into the house if needs be, and make themselves known. They also seem to recognize that the cost they pay for human protection is the provision of eggs. The hens go to great lengths to find places to hide their eggs from crows (who are smart enough to track a hen for hours), but they lay their eggs in a conspicuous place inside the human house whenever they can get in via a door, window or cat flap. One has decided that the appropriate place is in the middle of the family bed! Another regularly used the top of the 5' high entertainment unit! Fortunately, the ladies seem to be reasonably house trained. We rarely have to clean up any droppings.One of Baxter's stories I agree with is that one line of carnivorous dinosaurs actually became tool makers and developed language in order to hunt large herbivores, but went extinct along with their prey due to climate change. As a close observer of wild birds as well as domestic ones (i.e., the surviving dinosaurs), I am convinced that dinosaur brain architecture may have been a lot more efficient than is the case for mammalian brains. Some examples: African grey parrots have the demonstrated ability to more than a hundred human words and use them to construct simple sentences. New Caladonian Crows show demonstrable tool making capabilities in the lab (i.e., to bend a wire into shape to pull a treasure out of a hole). Other corvids have been able to work out how to use supplied ropes and pulleys to gain access to treasures. In my own front yard, I have seen a possibly bored wild galah (a medium sized parrot related to the cockatoos) lie on its back to free its feet so it could play frisbie with a plastic pot plant saucer. For their size and limited manipulation capabilities, at least some birds exhibit an awesome intelligence.In any event, there is a lot in Baxter's novel, Evolution, to think about. And, as a one time professional evolutionary biologist who did my PhD thesis studying species formation in vertebrates, there is very little in the biological basis for his stories that i would criticise. Unfortunately, the book is more an interesting academic exercise than a novel with a strong central plot and gripping story line that you can't put down.
Review by reading_fox
Having read Baxter's Titan and disliked it so much I'd forsworn reading any more of his, he received many recommendations from others I thought I'd try something else of his, as I came across it cheaply.Annoying anthromorphic at times it's a long spanning diverse series of chapters jumping across time, giving a clearly fictional but realistically based tracing of evolution descendants.The tale opens 65million years ago with a proto-primate hiding amongst the vegetation in a world dominanted by dinosaurs. Until an asteroid strike dramatically alters the climate, and our fortunate primate happens to be in a place to survive. - this becomes a familiar theme. The next creature some 30 million years ago is a slightly more advanced proto-primate competing with rodents (again a familiar theme). And so on and so on in increasingly humanoid and then human factions. Each iteration focuses on an specific individual and their life choices - food, mates and society. A few moments of their youth, looking for a mate, coping with society and sometimes how they meet their end after reproducing. Many of these Individuals are female though there are some males too. The most recognisably human are a historian living at the end of Roman times, followed by some near future speculation in 2130, although the story doesn't end there.There are a few bad points though. Although Baxter specifically states that the more animal creatures aren’t self aware and don't have names he then goes ahead to name them, and give them personalities. There is obviously a lot of reference to bodily functions, which occasionally makes unpleasant reading. Worst of all is Baxter's complete invention of a few species - tool using dinosaurs being the most egregious. And while this is obviously a work of fiction, such additions detract from the basic evolutionary accuracy of the rest. It would be interesting to compare this against the known descent recorded something like Dawkins' Ancestor's Tale. The future speculations are far more reasonable - even if unlikely. The other major failing is the assumption that mutations in one individual provide a population of descendants sufficiently large to impact an entire species. This seems unlikely as although rare mutations are unlikely to occur widely, an individual doesn't have that much impact of a species.Obviously the characters being so short lived, allows little room for development of them, but the continual time jumps aren't too disorientating once you've got into the right frame of mind. The writing in each chapter flows quite nicely. With interspersed geographical descriptions of weathering and tectonic movements - again speculating on effects this might have at an individual level.Overall enjoyably readable speculation with some interesting thoughts on the future of the human race its minor faults can be overlooked...................................................................................................................
Review by Sander314
I really wanted to love this book, as the concept is very nice. However, ultimately the first 2/3 of the book is rather repetitive, longwinded and not that interesting if you're already familiar with most of the science he is trying to explain. The last 1/3 ('future') I liked better, though is rather bleak, similar to 'flood' in a way.