Tor, Out now
An epic science fiction novel that spans generations.
Children of Time is something of a departure for Adrian Tchaikovsky – previously best known for the fantasy Shadow of the Apt series, in Children of Time he has written a SF novel that covers a huge arc.
Set in a future where the Earth’s reserves are nearly depleted, scientist Avrana Kern is on board a satellite that’s all set to seed a newly terraformed planet with a nanovirus. This will help monkeys released on the planet to evolve, watched over by the satellite that houses a scientist in cryogenic sleep, ready to be woken when the monkeys have reached a state of evolution where they can make contact. Things go wrong, and Avrana Kern herself is forced into hibernation, her last waking act to release the nanovirus as planned. Except there are no monkeys planet-side, and instead the nanovirus is absorbed by spiders.
And so the scene is set. Over the course of generations, we follow the development of a society headed by spiders, whilst on Earth and its colonies civilisation dies and starts inching its way upward once more. Several hundred years after Kern was forced into hibernation she is woken by the arrival of The Gilgamesh, a ship launched in the last days of Earth, bearing 500 sleeping humans – the last of the human race. A small handful of people are woken as their ship approaches Kern’s world – historian Holsten Mason and chief engineer Isa Lain amongst them. As Avrana Kern denies them access to what looks like the perfect home for them, they are forced to search elsewhere, whilst on Kern’s World the spiders and other lifeforms such as ants are still evolving, becoming a cohesive societal structure – we see the world through Portia’s eyes, a hunter gatherer. Or rather we see it through the eyes of successive Portias, as we follow her line down through the generations.
The novel shifts between the story of the spiders and the story of the humans left on The Gilgamesh – the former evolving and developing their own sense of what we would call ‘humanity’ while the latter lose their knowledge and civilisation through successive generations, becoming more and more disorganised as they fight for survival, finally arriving back on Kern’s World, with nowhere else to go – each side intent on gaining control of the planet.
Children of Time is epic in scale, following both civilisations through generations that see massive leaps in societal structure, knowledge and self-awareness and – in mankind’s case – their gradual decline and fight to regain that which was lost. The author has drawn an immensely detailed world, with characters on both sides beautifully and sympathetically depicted, whether or not you sympathise with their motives and actions.
Verdict: A hugely enjoyable science fiction epic. 9/10