Children of Time

December 29, 2015 - 3:48 pm No Comments

CHILDREN OF TIME by Adrian Tchaikovsky
Tor / 608 pgs / £18.99 hardback / ISBN 978-1447273288
Reviewed by Carol Goodwin

For those of you who are unfamiliar with his work, Adrian Tchaikovsky has written, amongst other things the well-regarded 10-volume Shadows of the Apt series which is a fantasy where different races of people have the aspects/abilities of real insects. His new book CHILDREN OF TIME is Science Fiction but the author’s fascination with arthropods clearly was the inspiration behind this story as well.
Two thousand years after human civilisation tore itself apart in civil war, the ark ship Gilgamesh and its cargo of hibernating humans is desperately trying to find a new home. Earth is poisoned, damaged and dying. Patched together from bits and pieces of salvaged old technology that present humanity cannot replicate, the ship is heading for Kern’s World. This planet was terraformed and seeded with life in the final days of the old civilisation. What they do not know is that the Kern’s World project was also an attempt at species uplift. The world has been seeded with a nanovirus which was designed to accelerate the evolution of intelligence in the offspring of infected individuals. The original aim had been to work with monkeys but in the chaos of the civil war, the launch was sabotaged and only the virus is safely deployed. On the planet the virus infects the available fauna. In particular, the hunting spider, Portia labiata has the mental capacity and flexible behaviour that allows the virus to work most effectively.
The story then alternates between the humans on the failing ship and the developing spider civilisation as both species head towards a confrontation which will decide which of the “Children of Earth” will inherit this new world. The story rattles along at a good pace and kept my interest all the way through.
I enjoyed this book immensely. The spiders are well devised so that although they are clearly “alien” (ie not human) they are still sympathetic. I particularly liked that their approach to problems and their technology is clearly influenced by their non-human biology so it is different to humans. The author has succeeded admirably in a difficult task of making what many people see as scary into something fascinating instead. It is very refreshing to see them not just as the monster in a story. The story of their progression reminded me of an old favourite of mine, John Brunner’s THE CRUCIBLE OF TIME in which an alien race evolves from primitives into starfarers.
The other main strand of the story, of the humans confined to the decaying spaceship is also well written, as we see them divide into factions as their resources dwindle and the technology fails. As with the spiders, they are interesting as characters and the plot feels credible. The author cleverly shows the similarities and differences between the two species so that towards the end I found myself wanting both species to “win” even as they head towards an inevitable confrontation. Unless you are an arachnophobe, I would definitely recommend this book.
(Review copy kindly donated by Pan Macmillan Tor)

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