Children of Time
Off we go to the far future and earth faces another catastrophe – at least the second of these since a previous one brought about the end of the period of human expansion into space and led to a descent into a new dark age that causes contemporary humans to refer to the ‘ancients.’ Some technology from that distant past can be rescued and put into service, even if it is not really understood. So, in response to the new disaster, humanity is going back into space to try to recreate or at least reconnect with the extraterrestrial networks created by the ancients. Alas, time’s arrow has been working apace in the meantime and not everything has been changing in the predicted manner. This is the premise for Adrian Tchaikovsky’s new novel and it is the first of his that I have read. I have seen some of his books around before but it is impossible to read everything or even to buy every book in the shop, no matter how hard I may try. However, I saw some recommendations for this one and I have been in the mood for another long-term evolution in space story after having enjoyed Kim Stanley Robinson’s Aurora. I am glad that I did because this is a very readable book with some excellent changes of course. I note from the inside cover that the author previously wrote eight novels in one fantasy series and the ending of this book is such that sequels are certainly possible.
There are some minor spoilers in the remaining part of this review.
The new planet, the new old planet that is, has previously been terraformed preparatory to eventual colonization and steps have been taken to ensure that evolution of local lifeforms will enable a smooth transition. Unfortunately for the newly-arriving would-be colonists, the evolution has worked through another lifeform and the planet is crawling with giant, intelligent spiders. Half of the narrative is devoted to the spaceship Gilgamesh and its generally not very sympathetic crew and the other half to the long-term evolution of arachnid society, much of which is determined by the great spiders of the time who are the ones most successfully in receipt of the ‘understandings’ provided by the nanovirus that is the means of fostering rapid societal evolution. The spiders are represented in different generations by the emergence of the dominant intellect of Portia and her various assistants known as Bianca. As spider society develops further, the Portia of the day accepts assistance from the leading male slave Fabian as part of an outrageous undermining of the age-old matriarchy which has supported society throughout known history. This is a good device in enabling the reader to engage with spider mentality and understand the nature of their society. As a fan of science fiction generally, I do not find it necessary to engage with the characters in order to enjoy a book but for some other readers this might result in alienation. Even so, the quality of the prose and the surefootedness of the plot development will be enough to carry most people along well enough.
This is a splendid novel and one I enjoyed reading and would recommend to others. Certainly I would be happy to read a sequel, as and when one should arrive.