Genie

Acclaimed novelist Richard Powers weaves the tale of a young biologist who makes a haunting discovery. Is it a message left by an alien life form, or the signature of the Creator himself?

  1. Genie

    There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed laws of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved.

    —Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection (1859)

    ***

    “It’s hard to believe,” the ranger said, “but you’re looking back four billion years at the oldest life on Earth.”

    A murmur in four languages escaped the group, and even the German teenagers in hoodies stared into the cerulean, vacuum-clear pool. The pit disappeared in a mystery of boulders forty feet beneath the steaming surface. At the edges, the shallows glowed with mustard and peach, avocado and rust, colors that shone like an oil slick. Nearby, spouts bubbled and spit plumes of vapor onto the moon-glop stone. Spray from a tiny geyser even splashed the boardwalk.

    Anca Jaeger smiled at the earnest ranger. No doubt he would’ve been happier explaining Yellowstone’s wolves or bears—large, furry creatures his audience could cozy up to. He tripped on the word hyperthermophilic and bobbled the chemistry of sulfur-based life. But he got the gist: near-boiling pools of bacteria—pockets of life more diverse than the rainforest, left over from before the infant planet had cooled.

    Besides, the uniform was beyond adorable. In the Smokey hat, with his deep-set eyes...

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