There are types of literature I'm not so keen on: disaster stories, planet-bound sci-fi, microbiology/biology/chemistry sci-fi. This book has all this, but I was hoping Greg Bear would provide something sufficiently brilliant that I would like it nonetheless. He almost manages, but not quite.
The book is in three parts, and they all revolve around the idea that some new kinds of humans have been born with enhanced capabilities (they can control people with scents, can speak to each other in two voices at once, and they have an enhanced sense of smell which allows them to read situations and people); the main thrust of the book is to explore how society deals with this and how the new species can find a peaceful existence in the world. While this is a world-wide phenomenon, the book centres exclusively on the United States and boils down to the author's misgivings about the way the American government goes about things, and the way the Native Americans have been treated.
In the first part of the book a disease kills a good percentage of the new children, and it is a story about a few individuals' efforts to avert a complete disaster. Meanwhile, the rest of society are running away from the new species, and locking them away in special schools. Thus, the main protagonist is facing a double-disaster: near death from the disease and being hunted (and eventually caught) by the authorities.
The second part of the book takes place some years later. The children are becoming settled at their school (though they are still mistreated), but some get taken away for research purposes when they become pregnant. However, some of their parents manage to hijack the convoy and the children escape. Somehow they live off the land and manage to get to California, where they find a secluded enclave and set up a community there, isolated from the rest of civilization.
The third part of the book is a ragged termination of the work. It is much shorter than the other parts, and covers the parent's reunification with their children, the death of one of the mothers, and the uncertain conclusion of the book's undercurrents.
One of the undercurrents is that a father of the children is a archaeologist, and finds the bones of two species of humans buried together. The shallow moral is that different human species can live together. Another side-line is a mother of the children who is a scientist, and exposed herself to the virus which made her the mother of a special child. She spends her life working on behalf of the children, tangling with government officials and industrial exploiteurs. Oh yeh, and she is paid a visit from God...
All in all, I found the whole book to be ragged, it containing too many threads and a very small cast of narrow characters given the scale of the work. Greg's exploration of a new species is interesting, as he goes into some detail about how the children themselves cope with growing up in a hostile society. However, his exploration of the societal response is shallow and terse, and the sidelines are distracting, narrow, and unrealistic. Greg demonstrates in a few short appendices that he has researched the subject, but given the list of microbiological Ph.D.s he provides one has the clear impression that the science was thrown in in places by the said experts, and does not really lend anything to the believeability or conveyance of the story. That said, I have the feeling that other microbiology Ph.D.s would find the book scientifically intriguing, like I found his work `Eon' to be as having been once a mathematical physics Ph.D. student.