The sci fi novel “Darwinia” by Robert Charles Wilson won the Canadian Prix Aurora Award in 1999, and was nominated for the 1999 Hugo Award for Best Novel.
“Darwinia” is the story of how a cataclysmic event on Earth is connected to events in the Galactic Library, the Archives of the histories of all the worlds. Guilford Law is the main character in the novel: he exists as an ancient “seed-sentient” within the Archive, and he also exists as a human being on Earth.
The story is told in the form of four Books, with an “Interlude” between the Books. The Books and the Interludes are closely connected: the Books are more about Guilford’s life on Earth, the events on Earth, the people in Guilford’s life ; and the “Interludes” are where we “journey” with Guilford into the Galactic Library.
When I read the novel, the Interludes became central to following the novel as a whole, and it is in the Interludes that the author writes of Guilford’s thoughts and reflections, his inward journey, on the importance of preserving history, and his own role in protecting the Galactic Archives.
The Galactic Library is a physical object of immense stellar dimension, containing the history of all the worlds of the Galaxy. It is being created by the “Galactic Sentience”, near the End of Time or the End of the Universe. And it is to be linked to other Archives in the Universe.
But the Galactic Archive is “invaded” by “semi-sentience” entities, or codes, called psions. The psions delete and worse still, change the history in the Archives. The Archives are crumbling ….
The Galactic Sentient must protect this change as it is also a part of the history of the Galaxy. But the psions have to be destroyed: their plan is to take over Earth. On Earth, they appear as insectile creatures.
The Galactic Sentience sends individual nodes or seed-sentiences, from all the worlds and ages, into the Archives, to destroy the psions. And one of these ancient terrestrial nodes is Guilford Law.
The story on Earth begins in 1912:
A brilliant aurora borealis over Northern Europe transforms a great part of the region into wilderness with strange unknown flora and fauna, their evolutionary origins unknown . This strange new world is named Darwinia.
Darwinia is actually a result of an attack by the psions. The event changes history, and transforms the lives of people. And the Americans become a key part of re-settling Darwinia.
On the night of the aurora borealis, in 1912, Guilford Law is 14 years old. He and his family watch the aurora borealis from their home in Boston. Guilford is fascinated by the mystery of Darwinia.
1920: Guilford enlists as a photographer with the American Finch expedition to Darwinia. They travel to what used to be Germany, up the river that used to be the Rhine. Darwinia is still very much like a frontier region. It is also now a part of a nationalistic struggle, and most of the Finch expedition members are killed in a jungle in an attack by the partisans.
Guilford and a few other members of the expedition survive. Their journey and exploration of Darwinia also becomes one of survival in a wild, dangerous, and largely unmapped “Lost World”. Eventually Guilford and the others arrive back into the civilized world.
1945: By now, Guilford is aware that he has a sentient “double”. His double takes him into the Archive itself and shows Guilford the dimensions of the original Archive. And what is left of it. The psions attack repeatedly the substructure of the Archive. The Sentient responds by sending in viral codes to disrupt the timing sequence of the psions.
By 1945 the frontier towns in Darwinia have grown into major towns and cities. Guilford is now married, and lives in Darwinia: on the coast of Italy, in the city of Fayetteville. His family is attacked and killed by men who have fallen under the control of the psions .
1965: The Well in the City of Demons, Darwinia.
Guilford, his friends Tom, Erasmus, and countless other ancient seed-sentiences like them, make their way to the Well, a physical structure built by the psions in Darwinia. The Well is also a deeply embedded algorithm of the psions in the Archives.
In and around the Well, fighting erupts between the seed-sentients and the men who have joined the psions. The seed-sentients defeat the psions and force them to retreat.
When Guilford’s Double says there is one final battle yet to come, Guilford responds that he wants to live now as an ordinary mortal. He wishes to die as humans do.
1999: Guilford is living in Darwinia along the coast. His sentient Double visits him. They chat.
And later that evening, Guilford thinks of how the sea is full of life, that there is so much to do, and only a moment to rest, to sleep….