People who had read my novel, Semiosis, recommended this book to me, so I bought it, and they were right, it’s a good book. Later I learned that Adrian Tchaikovsky had provided the extremely favorable cover blurb for the British edition of my novel. I owe him one for that.
There’s a lot to love about Children of Time. Tchaikovsky probably doesn’t know it, but in the Kindle edition, at the 99% mark (that is, at the very end) this sentence has been highlighted by 686 readers: “Life is not perfect, individuals will always be flawed, but empathy — the sheer inability to see those around them as anything other than people too — conquers all, in the end.”
This assertion is the rocket fuel that propels the book to science fiction’s heights. Our better natures triumph.
Here’s the official description:
“Winner of the 30th anniversary Arthur C. Clarke Award for Best Novel
“Adrian Tchaikovsky’s critically acclaimed, stand-alone novel Children of Time, is the epic story of humanity’s battle for survival on a terraformed planet.
“Who will inherit this new Earth?
“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.
“Now two civilizations are on a collision course, both testing the boundaries of what they will do to survive. As the fate of humanity hangs in the balance, who are the true heirs of this new Earth?”
Just as I had been told, the book touches on some of the same themes as mine: human beings attempting to colonize other planets, first contact with non-human life forms, and the sad certainty that humans will make at least a few foolish choices. Tchaikovsky approaches those questions from an entirely different angle, though, one that produces a different but very satisfying story.
He also uses some wise storytelling techniques. The narration alternates between the stories of humans and uplifted spiders. He finds a way to follow the same human beings across a long period of time (600 pages and thousands of years). The new masters of humanity’s last refuge, the spiders, go through a great many generations (this is not a spoiler) but they keep the same names. All this helps the reader move easily through a complex and ambitious plot.
In the end, the humans and spiders enter into direct conflict, but they don’t share the same culture or technology, so they don’t want the same outcome from the conflict. This is the ending that inspired so many highlighters.
Permeating both his book and mine is this question: How would intelligence differ in different species? It’s a question with as many right answers as there are species. Tchaikovsky’s book considers what spiders would think if they could think. He works through that question with patience and logic and creates a fascinating alien civilization.
I have only one quibble. The ideal reader for this book would have arachnophobia. I do not, and now I wish I did so I would have enjoyed the book even more as I overcame my fears during the course of the story. Here on Earth, I admire the spiders I encounter, even the ones inside my house — they eat mosquitoes, so I consider them allies. What if we could go to the stars with these clever beings? This book makes me want to do that.