Adrian Tchaikovsky is perhaps best know for his Shadow of the Apt fantasy series and in fact is responsible for bringing me back to fantasy, so to speak. It’s not that I fell out of love with fantasy, I just realised that I wasn’t reading any and hadn’t done for a while.
After meeting Adrian I was encouraged to give it a go and found the love of fantasy reignited. Tchaikovsky has written 10 Shadow of the Apt books and has now turned his attention to another closely related genre. Children of Time is his science fiction debut, which means that the pressure is on. The inescapable wondering as to whether a notable fantasy author can make the genre leap adds pressure to fans perception of Tchaikovsky’s skill.
The last remnants of the human race left a dying Earth, desperate to find a new home among the stars. Following in the footsteps of their ancestors, they discover the greatest treasure of the past age – a world terraformed and prepared for human life.
But all is not right in this new Eden. In the long years since the planet was abandoned, the work of its architects has borne disastrous fruit. The planet is not waiting for them, pristine and unoccupied. New masters have turned it from a refuge into mankind’s worst nightmare.
The story is set in the far future aboard the ark ship, The Gilgamesh. The only crew members that are regularly revived are certain key personnel responisble for the continued maintenance of the ship. The Gilgamesh encounters a planet- their last hope. However, as part of a terraforming project in the distant past, a virus, designed to promote rapid evolution amongst monkeys – raising them up to human levels of intelligence – has infused the planet. Due to sabotage however there are no monkeys and the virus has to work with what it can. The species that is most receptive to its machinations are, unfortunately for most of us, spiders.
And is is where the genius of this particular novel begins to peek through. This book is as much about the evolution of the spiders as it is about the situation on board ship and takes place over a period of about 700 years.
Tchaikovsky has hit upon a wonderful method of engaging the reader in the two developing worlds,despite the passing centuries, by providing 2 different constants.
On board the ship, the action takes place between bouts of suspended animation and our way in is Holsten Mason, a classicist. That means he is an expert in the old empire, the ancestors that ruined the earth in the first place. He is our eye to events on the ship. Whilst Mason heads a core of characters, there is a rotating cast spread out over the years.
On the planet we are introduced to Portia and her two companions, spiders whose particular skills puts them at the vanguard of the spiders evolutionary process. As the years roll by and generations of spiders come and go, our way in, our constant on this journey are the descendants of these 3 spiders
It is a lovely device that allows us to observe a bifold movement throughout the pages of the book. As one civilisation moves towards collapse, we simultaneously get to watch another civilisation travelling towards its apex.
The two species are on a converging path hampered by a complete inability to understand each other in even the most fundamental ways. Tchaikovsky’s resolution is both exciting, clever and genuinely surprising. In fact the whole tone of this book is clever. Themes of communication, empathy and the effects of time on people and groups are spread throughout. It embraces the best tradition of hard science fiction and engenders a curiosity in the reader that really drives your engagement.
Although it is possible to level an accusation of a lack of in depth characterisation amongst the humans, as for the most part they are pretty much all unlikeable, I still found myself heavily invested in them. My only other problem with the book was my struggle to understand how the spiders manipulated certain tools giving the restrictions of their biology. Wether this was a fault in the writing or just my inability to grasp certain concepts I can’t quite say.
It took 11 pages but regardless of my quibbles Children of Time grabbed me and didn’t let go until the end. For a first work of science fiction, this is a masterly piece of storytelling that had me thinking of scifi luminaries,Clarke, Asimov and even Serpeieri ( minus the sex- for those familiar with European comics).
Like some of the major works of the aforementioned luminaries Tchaikovsky has crafted a tale that is epic in scope and grand in execution.
AUTHOR: Adrian Tchaikovsky