Greg Bear's 28th novel, the near-future thriller Darwin's Children, is a direct sequel to his Darwin's Radio (1999), although familiarity with the prequel is not necessary to enjoy the ride offered here.

Ten years have passed since a new human virus produced a generation of children markedly different from their parents. The new children can communicate using freckle-like marks on their faces, and they're developing a new language and perhaps even new ways of living. Most of the new children have been taken from their families and placed in government schools. Some of these schools have been contracted out to private companies with more experience guarding prisoners than children. The schools have quickly become more akin to concentration camps, and as the children approach puberty, the government becomes afraid that another virus may be unleashed on the public. All remaining new children are ordered imprisoned. When the second virus appears, however, it is a defensive virus released by adult humans that kills 20 percent of the new children.

Bear explains viruses and all the science in the book in clear, comprehensible language that makes for fascinating reading. Despite the global nature of the virus, Bear focuses on the extreme and fearful reaction by the government, parents and the people of the U.S. One surprise in the novel occurs when two characters encounter something they think of as God. It is a presence that envelops them in feelings of acceptance and love but, frustratingly, neither can control any aspect of it. Where Bear is going with this will have to wait for a future novel.

Bear has become one of science fiction's most consistent producers of thrills and chills, and with Darwin's Children his strong imagination and writing skills come together in a combination that has all the hallmarks of future bestsellerdom. Gavin J. Grant is a freelance writer and reviewer in Northampton, Massachusetts.

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