Monday, January 14, 2019

Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky

At first, it’s easy to discount Adrian Tchaikovsky‘s first science fiction novel. After all, best-known fantasy series (Shadows of the Apt) has a very singular theme that has made him well known: insects. And, to a certain regard, Children of Time, continues the motif.

Spiders… in… Space!!!

Well, not in space.  They’re on a terraformed planet,  the accidental consequence of a bioengineering project. The reader witnesses the evolution of the new sentient race. Their early days are as hunters, morphing over time to a space-age society.

The other half of the story focuses on the Gilgamesh; an ark ship carrying the last vestiges of the human race. Faster-than-light travel isn’t a part of this world, so the voyagers go into stasis. Members of Key Crew awaken every so often to make sure the ship is running smoothly. Of course, things go off the rails, and it’s the fault of the people. Per usual.

Tchaikovsky’s prior work has  been  as a fantasy writer. That serves him in good stead for this volume, particularly for the spiders’ culture.  Evolutionary biology goes into the background of the story. Bit it’s easy to see that the society he presents is the effort of a cracking good world-builder. I itched to skip over the human chapters, only to focus on the more creative work he did with the spiders. But doing that would have been detrimental to the strength of the story.

I’m giving that half too little credit. The Gilgamesh portions were as good. But in a different way. Thinking about how humanity will end is bittersweet. It’s tough to see the race hasn’t moved past its tribalism and obsession with mortality.

There’s a great phrase near the end of the story: “a tyranny of priorities.” The drama between the two groups is driven by their own survival needs and hampered by a lack of communication. The way that they realize that the tyranny can fall away is a bit of a slick trick that comes at the eleventh hour. It’s a good solution, but it feels like Tchaikovsky had a clever idea that he couldn’t quite follow through on.

My biggest gripe about the story is the main human character, Holsten. He’s an interesting academic, and provides a great viewpoint. But he lacks agency. He’s there as a reader’s avatar, and he doesn’t grow too much as a person. You could argue that his static nature is symbolic of humanity as presented. Which is a sad commentary, but important.

That  said, Children of Time is an excellent book with a lot of great, entertaining ideas. I highly recommend it!

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