Staff Picks: Evolution Fiction

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Happy Birthday, Charles Darwin! February 12, 2019 marked a historic 210th birthday for The Father of Evolution. While Darwin may have passed in 1882, his scientific legacy and revolutionary research lives on. This Darwin Day people around the world celebrated with library festivals, museum events, and more. That said, there are a lot of misconceptions about Darwin’s evolution even now, which makes teaching students evolution in an effective and impactful manner is more important than ever. For this Darwin Day, we decided to pick our favorite fiction and poetry that features evolution. Check out our full list below.

Book cover of Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer

Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer
Gillian King-Cargile, STEM Read Founder & Director

One of my favorite books about evolution is Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation (Book 1 of his Southern Reach Trilogy). In the book, a biologist, psychologist, anthropologist, and surveyor are exploring Area X, a wild stretch of forest and coastline closed behind a mysterious boarder. Nature has consumed almost every trace of humanity and the area itself is evolving in strange and terrifying ways. The expedition, the twelfth of its kind, is tasked with exploring Area X without becoming contaminated by it. The book and the series explore whether anything or anyone can survive a rapid evolutionary shift and question how long humanity can keep pushing back against the inevitable advance of our own destruction. If you saw the movie, treat yourself to the book. Jeff VanderMeer has said that the book and movie share the same DNA. They are both amazing, but they are wildly and head-scratchingly different. It’s fascinating to see how the touch of another creator pushes the story itself to evolve. If you loved Annihilation Annihilation’s book pagebe sure to check out our free educator resources on .

The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists! by Gideon Defoe
Gillian King-Cargile, STEM Read Founder & Director

If you’re looking for a wackier way to celebrate Charles Darwin, check out The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists! by Gideon Defoe. The book is about a band of pirates who meet a young Charles Darwin and his “man-panzee” Mr. Bobo after the scientist has been exiled from London by scientific rivals. Pirate humor and science silliness ensue in this relentlessly goofy book.

Galapagos book cover

Galapagos by Kurt Vonnegut
Tony Blanco, STEM Read Intern

Let’s face it, the theory of evolution can be hard to understand. Tell students that they evolved from a fish, and they stare at you like one from the corner of a plastic fish bowl. But tell them there’s a story that combines evolution with a dystopian novel, and you may get their attention. Kurt Vonnegut’s, Galapagos, is about six bizarre characters who decide to take “the Nature Cruise of the Century” to the Galapagos Islands. What they expect is relaxation, education, and adventure. What they get is the apocalypse. Vonnegut makes science fun by presenting evolution in humorous and interesting ways. There’s the marine iguana whose eating habits require it to act as a crockpot, the awkward foot-flashing mating ritual of the blue-footed boobies, and blood-sucking vampire finches! Galapagos is like “Naked and Afraid,” only there’s no helicopter to save you at the end. Galapagos is a testament to evolution and is the perfect novel to introduce Darwin as a scientist, evolution, and satire.

This Mortal Coil Book Cover

This Mortal Coil by Emily Suvada
Hannah Carmack, Creative Content Coordinator

While we’ve already covered This Mortal Coil in depth in a quick pick, it didn’t feel right to leave it off a list all about genetics and evolving. In the world of This Mortal Coil author Emily Suvada paints a grim future where a plague has forced most of humanity into underground bunkers. Humans who chose to stay above ground are forced to fight for survival. Our main character, Cat, lives on the surface and works as a genetic hacker. She’s able to manipulate here genes at the click of a button. From the color of her eyes to whether or not she has wings and can fly, Cat’s coding abilities allow her to hack genetics in unimaginable ways. It’s a fun book that can be used to introduce not only coding and evolution, but also can get students thinking about where we may be heading and how technological advances will affect evolution in the future.

In Memoriam by Tennyson, Lord Alfred
Christine Brovelli-O’Brien, Ph.D., Content Contributor

In its entirety, the lyrical poem In Memoriam, written by Tennyson, Lord Alfred and published between 1833- 1850, expresses the poet’s journey though love, grief, and eventually hope. Written as a mourning poem upon the death of Tennyson’s dear friend, Arthur Hallam, the poem contains one of the most so-famous-it’s-now-cliché phrases in the English language – “‘Tis better to have loved and lost/Than never to have loved at all” – but it also is a power-house meditation on humankind, evolution, and the power of Nature. Tennyson was a contemporary of Charles Darwin, whose Origins of Species was published in 1859. There’s a rich history of studying their work in tandem. In Memoriam stanza 56, in particular, highlights the Victorian awareness of the destruction that Nature both suffers and causes: “Nature, red in tooth and claw,” writes Tennyson in another often-quoted line. His questioning of evolution and mankind’s physical matter is revealed in stanza 120: “I think we are not wholly brain,/Magnetic mockeries; not in vain…Not only cunning casts in clay: Let Science prove we are, and then/What matters Science unto men,/At least to me?” In Memoriam is full of fascinating evolutionary ruminations, particularly when taken into context as a poem that led the charge of late-nineteenth-century philosophies of “survival of the fittest” that occupied Social Darwinists. The poem has just the right amount of Victorian melodrama to drive the narrative.

That’s all we have for staff picks this week, but we’ll be back. Be sure to check us out on Facebook and Twitter to stay up-to-date on all our blogs, podcasts, and free educator resources.