Article ID: CBB654555495

Life Decoded: State Science and Nomad Science in Greg Bear’s 'Darwin’s Radio' (2016)


Idema, Tommy (Author)

Bulletin of Science, Technology & Society
Volume: 36
Issue: 1
Pages: 38-48

Publication Date: 2016
Edition Details: Special Issue: Science and Science Fiction - Volume II: Subjectivities
Language: English

In Greg Bear’s critically acclaimed science fiction novel Darwin’s Radio, the activation of an endogenous retrovirus (SHEVA), ironically located in a “noncoding region” of the human genome, causes extreme symptoms in women worldwide, including miscarriages. In the United States, a task force is assembled to control the pandemic crisis and to find out how SHEVA operates at the genomic level. However, as the story unfolds, it becomes manifest that SHEVA is too complex to decode in this way and, moreover, that it is not a disease at all. Biologist Kay Lang speculates that SHEVA is triggered by signals from the environment, and that newborn SHEVA children will be a new variation or species of Man. In this essay I analyze Bear’s literary experiment with science along Deleuze and Guattari’s important, but largely overlooked, concepts of State science and nomad science. Bear’s novel gives narrative form to nomad-scientific ideas about life, notably Lynn Margulis’s theory of endosymbiogenesis, which holds that a species’ DNA is an assemblage of many genomes acquired in symbiotic relations. The import of Bear’s informed speculations, I argue, is not crass prediction but a nomadic vision of life as always already different (impure, infected) and in becoming—a counterpoint to the image of the double helix as the bedrock of human identity. Darwin’s Radio is a key example of how fiction can be an excellent partner for science, technology, and society, analyzing and intervening in debates about life and laying bare epistemological and biopolitical tensions of technoscience.

Included in

Article Alexander I. Stingl (2016) Introduction: “Give Me Sight Beyond Sight”: Thinking With Science Fiction as Thinking (Together) With (Others). Bulletin of Science, Technology & Society (pp. 3-27). unapi

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Authors & Contributors
Andreas Folkers
Sven Opitz
Adriana Giannini
Bourrat, Pierrick
Saulnier, Katie Michelle
Joly, Yann
Social Studies of Science
History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
Science, Technology, and Human Values
Science-Fiction Studies
Osiris: A Research Journal Devoted to the History of Science and Its Cultural Influences
Centaurus: International Magazine of the History of Mathematics, Science, and Technology
L'Asino d'oro Edizioni
University of Chicago Press
Oxford University Press
Lexington Books
Science and society
Science fiction
Science and technology studies (STS)
Margulis, Lynn
Deleuze, Gilles
Butler, Octavia Estelle
Tarkovsky, Andrei
Guattari, Felix
VanderMeer, Jeff
Time Periods
21st century
20th century
20th century, late
19th century
20th century, early
Great Britain--Colonies--America
Soviet Union
National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (Great Britain)

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