Not so much a sequel as a continuation of Bear’s near-future biological thriller, Darwin’s Radio (1999). SHEVA, a human endogenous retrovirus—it’s attached to our chromosomes—became active, causing the birth of millions of genetically altered children. But these, according to an increasingly paranoid and repressive Administration, represented a deadly threat to public health and safety. So the mutated children were taken from their parents and placed in soulless concentration camps. There’s a powerful unstated motive too: fear of the children’s remarkable abilities. In the camps, such education that they receive is designed to limit the children’s posthuman development: they communicate using complex verbal tricks, enhanced facial expressions, and psychoactive chemical scents manufactured by their own bodies, and form naturally stable social groups that minimize conflict and maximize cooperation. Former archaeologist Mitch Rafelson and his microbiologist wife Kaye Lang have a SHEVA daughter, Stella Nova, whom they attempt to shield from the government’s EMAC (Emergency Action) forces, but eventually she is captured and sent to a camp. Mitch and Kaye split up, and the future looks increasingly grim for all such children and their grieving parents. However, government virus researcher Christopher Dicken gradually makes significant discoveries, as does Kaye after returning to her former profession. EMAC boss Mark Augustine, once stifled and sidelined, slowly makes a comeback. And Mitch makes an archaeological breakthrough that will permanently change everyone’s perceptions of human evolution.
Scary and technically plausible though demanding work, even if the good guys’ resurgence depends more on coincidence than logic.