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Brendan Detzner reviews "Evolution" by Jennifer MacDonald

“Evolution” by Jennifer MacDonald is on one hand the story of Kelly McGrail, a twenty-something woman on the verge of losing her battle against addiction and depression who is able to turn her life around, start believing in herself, and find a renewed sense of purpose. “Evolution” is also the story of the planet Evolution, the place after which our term for gradual development was named. Evolution is a paradise, a place where species from across the galaxy have gathered so that they might spread peace, love, joy, and spiritual understanding. When Kelly is brought to Evolution so that she might gain a handle on her problems, she finds herself involved in a conflict involving humans who refuse to learn from the aliens and a mysterious disembodied force that works against everything the people of Evolution hold dear.

There are many different threads running through “Evolution”- Kelly’s redemption, the relationships between the members of the group that work with Kelly, the physical environment of the planet Evolution, the conflict with the other humans, and a belief system, neither a religion nor a philosophy, which gives motivation to most of the major characters. You might expect a story like this to feel crowded, but “Evolution” runs into trouble at the opposite extreme. Instead of competing for attention, the ideas in “Evolution” are left underdeveloped.

The story’s protagonist is the perfect example. A lot of space is devoted to describing Kelly’s feelings, but despite all the attention she never really emerges as a person. We learn lots of things about her- she gets depressed, she’s been addicted to things, she has very little faith in herself- but we never get so much as a clue of what caused her to be like this. When she suddenly gets over her problems, we’re left scratching our heads, wondering what exactly happened.

The general surroundings of Evolution are another case in point. Many of the details of the species, technology, and lifestyle on the planet are interesting in themselves, but they never add up to a cohesive whole. We never get a good idea of what taking a walk inside of one of Evolution’s domes would feel like.

Finally, and most importantly, the ideology that is the overarching subject of “Evolution” is never fully articulated. We know that the beings on Evolution don’t believe in money, and that they have managed to move beyond their individual concerns and learn to work for the good of the community. But the whys and hows of their belief system are sketchy to the point of being meaningless. Instead of something profound, we are merely given a simple way to differentiate the good guys from the bad guys, and to explain Kelly’s inexplicable personal transformation.

“Evolution” is a well-assembled story- it’s always clear what’s going on- but its lack of specifics keeps it from making the strong statement the book is shooting towards. It’s hard to disagree with what Kelly’s saviours have to say. Life would be better for everyone if we all simply let go of our pain and loved one another. If this is news to you, you might find “Evolution” eye opening. But a guidebook for how to bring such a thing to pass, I can’t recommend it.

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