Fiction & Humor

2001: A Space Odyssey

by Arthur C. Clarke
New York: Roc, 2000. 297 pages.

A classic science fiction novel that not only features a mysterious alien artifact of unknown purpose (ripe for the application of Dembski's explanatory filter?) but also posits ongoing interference by extraterrestrials in the course of human evolution. Published alongside the release of the film directed by Stanley Kubrick, 2001 was followed by 2010: Odyssey Two, 2061: Odyssey Three, and most recently, 3001: The Final Odyssey. There is even a creationist web site that takes 2001 as its theme!

Anthill: A Novel

by E. O. Wilson
New York: W. W. Norton, 2010. 378 pages.

A semi-autobiographical novel, Anthill combines a coming-of-age story with ruminations on nature from ants to the biosphere as a whole. “Melville gave us whales and obsessions, Orwell gave us pigs and politicians. Now Wilson suggests with winning conviction that in our own colonies, we proceed at our peril when we cast off mindful restraint in favor of unchecked growth. ... carries the reader down the ant-hole to describe life from the ants’ point of view. No writer could do this better, and Wilson’s passion serves him best here. His language achieves poetic transcendence,” wrote Barbara Kingsolver in The New York Times Book Review.

Calculating God

by Robert J. Sawyer
New York: Tor Books, 2001. 352 pages.

From the cover: "An alien shuttle lands outside Toronto's Royal Ontario Museum. A six-legged being emerges, who says, in perfect English, 'Take me to a paleontologist.' It seems that Earth, and the alien's home planet, and the home planet of another alien species traveling on the alien mothership, all experienced the same five cataclysmic events at the same times in their prehistory (one was the asteroid impact that on Earth wiped out the dinosaurs). Both alien races believe this proves the existence of God: God has obviously been playing with the evolution of life on each of these planets. From this provocative launch point, Sawyer tells a fast-paced, and morally and intellectually challenging, SF story that just grows larger and larger in scope."

Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species: A Graphic Adaptation

by Michael Keller, illustrated by Nicolle Rager Fuller
New York: Rodale, 2009. 192 pages.

From the publisher: "A stunning graphic adaptation of one of the most famous, contested, and important books of all time. ... author Michael Keller and illustator Nicolle Rager Fuller introduce a new generation of readers to the original text. Including sections about [Darwin's] pioneering research, the book's initial public reception, his correspondence with other leading scientists, as well as the most recent breakthroughs in evolutionary theory, this riveting, beautifully rendered adaptation breathes new life into Darwin's seminal and still polarizing work." A twelve-page sample excerpt is available (PDF).

Dar and the Spear-Thrower

by Marjorie Cowley
New York: Clarion Books, 1996. 188 pages.

Written by the creator of a 30-hour curriculum on Prehistoric People and Their World, this story is set in Southern France, 15,000 years ago. A coming of age story that is especially appealing to sixth graders, the book is rich in details about the daily life and technology of prehistoric hunter-gatherers. The novel and accompanying teachers' guide are also designed to "get students to think like archaeologists." Grades 5–7. Approved for use in teaching 6th grade prehistory in California.

Darwin's Plots (second edition)

by Gillian Beer
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000. 312 pages.

Subtitled "Evolutionary narrative in Darwin, George Eliot and nineteenth-century fiction," Beer's classic work of literary criticism (first published in 1983) begins with a discussion of the literary influences on Darwin, manifest in his use of language and his narrative language strategy in the Origin, and then proceeds to consider Darwin's influence on nineteenth-century fiction, particularly the novels of George Eliot and Thomas Hardy. The reviewer for the New Statesman commented, "The only problem with this book is deciding what to praise first." The second edition (published in 2000) contains a new preface by the author and a foreword by George Levine.

Darwin's Radio

by Greg Bear
New York: Ballantine Books, 2000. 544 pages.

The winner of the 2000 Nebula Award for the best science fiction novel of the year, Greg Bear's Darwin's Radio "draws on state-of-the-art biological and anthropological research to give us an ingeniously plotted thriller that questions everything we believe about human origins and destiny — as civilization confronts the next terrifying step in evolution" (to quote the jacket copy). "As three scientists discover a catastrophic threat within humanity's genes, Bear, a master of hard SF, explores the nature of evolution and, through well-developed characters, the nature of the species that would control it", writes the reviewer for Publisher's Weekly.

Evolution: The Story of Life on Earth

by Jay Hosler
New York: Hill and Wang, 2011. 151 pages.

Reviewer Scott Hatfield praises Hosler’s graphic novel as both amusing and educational, writing, “Evolution: The Story of Life on Earth makes it clear that the ideas first glimpsed by Darwin are not confined to old textbooks, but instead form the basis of an active, lively field of scientific inquiry. Its engaging characters, informed content, and clever illustrations make this book an excellent selection for anyone, young or old, interested in learning more about evolution.” The chapters outlining the history of life possess “an epic feel, with the artists using a great variety of panel layouts that creatively address the needs of the material.”


by Kurt Vonnegut
New York: Dial Press, 1999. 336 pages.

"The thing was: One million years ago, back in 1986 A.D. ..." Thus begins Kurt Vonnegut's satirical look backwards at the future of human evolution, narrated by a ghost who tells the story of a group of vacationers stranded in the Galápagos when the apocalypse arrives. Their descendants subsequently evolve into a new species: furry, finned, fish-eating, and small of brain. "Vonnegut is a postmodern Mark Twain", writes the reviewer for The New York Times Book Review; "Galápagos is a madcap genealogical adventure."

Inherit the Wind

by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E Lee
New York: Bantam Books, 1960. 129 pages.

Opening on Broadway in 1955, Inherit the Wind was intended to indict McCarthy's anticommunism, not Bryan's fundamentalism. Nevertheless, by basing the play loosely on the Scopes trial — Bryan became Brady, Darrow became Drummond, Mencken became Hornbeck, Scopes became Cates, and Dayton became Hillsboro — Lawrence and Lee embedded their vision of the trial in the American popular consciousness. Starring in the 1960 film version — which premiered in Dayton — were Spencer Tracy, Fredric March, and Gene Kelly.

Last and First Men

by Olaf Stapledon
London: Libri, 1999. 307 pages.

First published in 1930, Last and First Men stretches over two billion years to describe the career of no fewer than eighteen species of human beings, beginning with the First Men, Homo sapiens. John Maynard Smith writes, "A book which probably had a bigger influence on me than anything I've ever read was written in 1933 [sic] by a man called Olaf Stapledon and called Last and First Men. It's quite an extraordinary book. ... This book completely blew my mind when I read it at the age of 15 or so. It made me fascinated in genetics, fascinated in evolution, and I suppose it's as much as anything else responsible for where I am standing today."

Literary Darwinism

by Joseph Carroll
New York: Routledge, 2004. 304 pages.

Joseph Carroll is the leading light of the emerging movement of literary Darwinism, and Literary Darwinism collects his essays on such topics as evolution and literary theory, biology and poststructuralism, and the deep structure of literary representations, as well as discussions of authors as diverse as Jane Austen and Charlotte Brontë, Matthew Arnold and Thomas Hardy, and Steven Pinker and Stephen Jay Gould. E.O. Wilson describes Literary Darwinism as "[a] brilliant exposition of a new paradigm in literary criticism which, because it is among the first to bridge modern biology and the humanities, has a feel of permanence to it."

Madame Bovary's Ovaries: A Darwinian Look at Literature

by David Barash and Nanelle Barash
New York: Delacorte, 2005. 272 pages.

"[L]iterature is life written down," contend the authors of Madam Bovary's Ovaries, a psychologist, specializing in evolutionary psychology, at the University of Washington and his daughter, currently studying literature and biology at Swarthmore College. "Accordingly, literary critics — and, more important, garden-variety readers — should profit by adding the cardinal principle of the life sciences to their armamentarium." Taking on the canon from Homer to Saul Bellow, they offer what the reviewer for Publishers Weekly describes as "a surprisingly lighthearted romp through both literature and the animal kingdom, aimed at a casual reader who's interested in either or both."

Mr Darwin's Shooter

by Roger McDonald
New York: Penguin, 1998. 384 pages.

In Mr Darwin's Shooter, Roger McDonald — one of Australia's most acclaimed novelists — tells the story of Syms Covington, the sixteen-year-old sailor, fiddler, and odd-job man on the Beagle who became Darwin's full-time assistant, helping him collect and preserve the specimens on which the theory of evolution was based. Much later, living in rural Australia, Covington is awaiting the publication of the Origin of Species, dreading its implications for his devout religious faith but also wondering what of him will be reflected in Darwin's work. The reviewer for The New York Times described Mr Darwin's Shooter as "[a] high-spirited, adventuresome, idiosyncratic ramble through the history of science."

No Enemy But Time

by Michael Bishop
London: VGSF, 2000. 400 pages.

The winner of the 1982 Nebula award for best science fiction novel of the year, No Enemy But Time follows a protagonist whose dreams of prehistoric Africa are so compellingly detailed that he is invited to join a most unusual time travel project. Stranded in the past, he finds love among the Homo habilis he was sent to research. Writes Norman Spinrad, "No Enemy But Time is a science fiction novel of rare maturity and perhaps even rarer wit."

Orphan of Creation

by Roger MacBridge Allen
Trenton, NJ: Foxacre Press, 1988. 344 pages.

In Allen's 1988 novel, now back in print, the bones of an australopithecine are found in Mississippi, and are dated to the period just before the Civil War. As the evidence mounts that australopithecines are alive in the present day, the question of what it is to be human assumes a new urgency. According to Jim Foley's paleoanthropology fiction page at, Orphans of Creation also comments on the creation/evolution controversy. Reviewing it on, Robert J Sawyer (whose Calculating God is described above) gives it five stars, adding "It impressed the heck out of me."

Planet Ocean

by Brad Matsen and Ray Troll
Berkeley, CA: Ten Speed Press, 1994. 133 pages.

Dozens of Ray Troll's imaginative full-color paintings and block prints are accompanied by Brad Matsen's text explaining the history of life on our ocean-covered planet. It is difficult to say which is more entertaining, the illustrations (such as "Trilobite Safari", which depicts 2 plaid-wearing human hunters bearing a huge trilobite on a stick between them) or the text, which, referring to the Burgess Shale, says, "The clearest notes of complex life's first songs echo in the dark shale of the Canadian Rockies. We heard them just after the turn of the century, though we didn't hear the tune clearly until the mid-1970s. But what's a few decades among eukaryotes?"

Rapture of the Deep: The Art of Ray Troll

by Ray Troll, Brad Matsen, and David James Duncan
Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2004. 148 pages.

From the publisher: "Rapture of the Deep collects some of Troll's best-known art along with many images never before published. The book makes powerful connections between biological diversity, the evolution of life on earth, and the careless habits of people. Rapture of the Deep celebrates Troll's vision with legendary works including 'Spawn Till You Die,' 'Life's a Fish and Then You Fry,' and 'Bassackwards,' in which fish use money, liquor, and literature as bait to lure humans. Troll's running commentary reveals the thought and inspiration behind his art. Writer Brad Matsen, Troll's longtime coconspirator, adds a lively introduction to the art and life of his 'sole' brother."


by Terry Pratchett
London: Corgi Books, 1988. 192 pages.

Before Terry Pratchett's career took off with the wildly popular Discworld series, he wrote Strata. Intended as a pastiche of Larry Niven's Ringworld, it also amusingly explores the Omphalos hypothesis: "Discovering two of her employees have placed a fossilized plesiosaur in the wrong stratum, not to mention the fact it is holding a placard which reads 'End Nuclear Testing Now', doesn't dismay the woman who built a mountain range in the shape of her initials during her own high-spirited youth. But then come a discovery of something which did intrigue Kin Arad. A flat earth was something new..."

The Clan of the Cave Bear

by Jean M. Auel
New York: Bantam Books, 1984. 528 pages.

First in the Earth's Children series of novels (also containing The Valley of Horses, The Mammoth Hunters, The Plains of Passage, and The Shelters of Stone), The Clan of the Cave Bear tells the story of Ayla, a Cro-Magnon orphan found and raised by a clan of Neanderthals about 35 000 years ago. The Clan of the Cave Bear was a finalist for the National Book Award for First Novel, and the reviewer for the San Francisco Chronicle raved, "Jean Auel has performed a minor miracle."

The Darwin Conspiracy

by John Darnton
New York: Random House, 2005. 320 pages.

The publisher writes, "Darnton's richly dramatic narrative ... unfolds through three vivid points of view: Darwin's own as he sails around the world aboard the Beagle; his daughter Lizzie's as she strives to understand the guilt and fear that struck her father at the height of his fame; and that of present-day anthropologist Hugh Kellem and Darwin scholar Beth Dulcimer, whose obsession with Darwin (and with each other) drives them beyond the accepted boundaries of scholarly research. What Hugh and Beth discover ... is a maze of bitter rivalries, petty deceptions, and jealously guarded secrets, at the heart of which lies the birth of the theory of evolution."

The Dechronization of Sam Magruder

by George Gaylord Simpson
New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 1997. 160 pages.

Paleontologist and architect of the modern synthesis, George Gaylord Simpson also ventured into fiction with The Dechronization of Sam Magruder, in which a physicist working on a quantum theory of time is catapulted back to the Cretaceous, which Simpson describes in loving detail. With a preface by Arthur C. Clarke and an afterword by Stephen Jay Gould. Yves Barbero, writing in Creation/Evolution (1996 Summer; 16 [1], nr 38: 32), remarked, "Simpson's novel is a terrific read on many levels. ... The book is a full evening's pleasure."

The Evolution Man

by Roy Lewis
New York: Vintage Books, 1994. 224 pages.

Originally published in 1960 as What We Did to Father, The Evolution Man follows the adventures of the primal horde, led by their inventive genius of a father. Familiar themes of paleoanthropological fiction are treated, although not in the sort of diction that is familiar in the genre: "Good gracious! ... While I have been talking to you, and not even thinking about it, I have made a most important invention: the heavy-duty hunting spear with the fire-hardened point!" "Artfully told and laugh-out-loud funny", writes the reviewer for the Los Angeles Times Book Review.

The Evolution of Jane

by Cathleen Schine
New York: Plume, 1999. 224 pages.

From the publisher: "[T]he Galápagos Islands are home to diverse species of exotic wildlife — and tourists of every stripe and feather. It is here that Jane Barlow Schwartz embarks on a quest as urgent as Charles Darwin's one hundred and fifty years before: to find out why her childhood friendship with her cousin and soul-mate Martha ended; and what unknown event, family feud, or unintended slight caused the happiest part of her life to become extinct. Along the way ... Jane ponders the origin of her own colorful and peculiar heritage, a secret history of natural selection, and the flawed and fascinating evolutionary process that makes us all who we are."

The Evolutionary Tales: Rhyme and Reason on Creation/Evolution

by Ronald L. Ecker
Palatka, FL: Hodge & Braddock, 2006. 298 pages.

In this delightful rhyming parody of the Canterbury Tales, now in its third edition, ten scientists on their way to a "Back to Genesis" seminar describe how their respective specialties contribute to the overwhelming evidence supporting evolution. With comprehensive notes, bibliography, and index, this entertaining book doubles as a handy creation/evolution reference.

The Literary Animal: Evolution and the Nature of Narrative

edited by Jonathan Gottschall and David Sloan Wilson
Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2005. 304 pages.

From the publisher: "The volume brings together scholars from the forefront of the new field of evolutionary literary analysis — both literary analysts who have made evolution their explanatory framework and evolutionist scientists who have taken a serious interest in literature — to show how the human propensity for literature and art can be properly framed as a true evolutionary problem. Their work is an important step toward the long-prophesied synthesis of the humanities and what Steven Pinker calls 'the new sciences of human nature.'" With dual forewords by the literary critic Frederick Crews and the evolutionary biologist E. O. Wilson.

The Origin

by Irving Stone
New York: Doubleday, 1980. 743 pages.

Known for his popular biographical novels of the famous, including Vincent van Gogh (Lust for Life), Michelangelo (The Agony and the Ecstasy), and Clarence Darrow (For the Defense), Irving Stone spent five years working on The Origin, living in or near Darwin's abodes in Shropshire, Shrewsbury, and London, and even traveling to the Galápagos. His efforts were rewarded with a place on the bestseller list and a review in The New York Times describing The Origin as "a work of vast research, much pleasure and modest insights. It lacks literary elegance and psychological subtlety. But it is overwhelming in detail and overpowering as narrative."

The Time Machine

by H. G. Wells
New York: Tor Books, 1992. 144 pages.

A classic of science fiction, Wells's first novel hardly needs any introduction. Wells's description of our descendants in the year 802701, the beautiful but feeble Eloi and the fierce and carnivorous Morlocks, is unforgettable. Joseph Conrad praised Wells for "contriv[ing] to give over humanity into the clutches of the Impossible and yet manage to keep it down (or up) to its humanity, to its flesh, blood, sorrow, folly. That is achievement." Wells studied with Thomas Henry Huxley at the Normal School of Science in London, and traces of his biological education are evident throughout his early novels.