Fiction Reviews


Children of Memory

(2022) Adrian Tchaikovsky, Tor, £20, hrdbk, 480pp, ISBN 978-1-529-08717-8

 

This is the third in an unnamed series (letís call it 'the Children' novels) from the increasingly prolific Adrian Tchaikovsky set in deep space in the middling to deep future where mankindís managed to spread its self-destruction out to its barely formed colonies leaving behind remnants, experiments and new, hybrid forms of life. The previous instalments, Children of Time and the BSFA Award-winning Children of Ruin, introduced most of the cast driving Children of Memory. Way back when, scientist Avrana Kern was an early coloniser seeding a virgin planet with genetic modifications, intent in developing sentient helpers for later human colonists. But instead of clever apes she got clever spiders, and in the absence of colonists, an entirely unexpected civilisation. Kern herself lives on until (and through) Children of Memory, though whether sheís still human though (or AI or something else) is debateable.

Colonists (or refugees) eventually do arrive, having travelled the slow way. Eventually they integrate with Kern and her ĎPortidsí to an interconnectivity that transforms humans into (capital H) Humans. This odd combination then goes exploring, first finding super-bright, space-faring Octopi (also from Kerns genetic experiments) but eventually come across genuinely alien intelligence in the Nodans Ė parasitic microbes that take over hosts and reshape them.

The Nodan in this story is the human-form Miranda (because, presumably, ĎO brave new world, that has such people inít!í) trying to make sense of the unfathomable. Kern, Miranda and the others (this time accompanied by sentient birds) have discovered an ancient colony that doesnít appear to have failed (unlike the others). Miranda goes in to investigate and gets drawn into the slow decline of the society she doesnít quite manage to integrate into. But then events get confused and different timelines emerge. She befriends a young girl, Liff, who knows her long dead grandfather, even though the passage of centuries makes that impossible. And then thereís a witch, deep in a mountain, a dead spaceship in orbit and a slow descent into entropic failure. Miranda tries to make sense of it all, and (of course) the planet, and the colony, are not what they seem to be. All of which gives rise to lots of speculation about the nature of reality and what it is to be human.

This isnít always an easy book to follow, and there was a point where I though Tchaikovsky had spliced together a couple of different drafts and not noticed the continuity problems in the edits, but read through the confusion and it all makes (more) sense. Itís pacy, intriguing and dynamic, though itís somewhat soft on characterisation in favour of concept. It ends well, though, and if thatís it, thatís fine. But Iím a big fan of well written trilogies in four parts so letís hope for more.

Mark Bilsborough

See also Steven French's take on Children of Memory.

 


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