(2020) Adrian Tchaikovsky, Macmillan, £18.99, hrdbk, 597pp, ISBN 978-1-509-86588-8
This is a new standalone novel from Adrian Tchaikovsky, the author of the highly acclaimed Children of Time and its follow up Children of Ruin. Both those novels deal with the evolution of sentient life in non-human forms, and this theme permeates The Doorway to Eden too.
The story is set in present-day Earth. Strange rifts are appearing and things from other versions of Earth are creeping through – Neanderthals, giant rodents and worse. A student, Mel, falls through a stone circle in Bodmin Moor into a world of intelligent feathery dinosaurs leaving her friend, Lee, behind to try to make sense of her sudden disappearance. Then, years later, she’s back with a new Neanderthal sidekick and a heap of mysteries. It seems the multiverse is in trouble – and it’s going to take a lot of brains from a lot of dimensions to make things right, even if that’s a possibility. MI5 is involved – Julian and Alison – trying to locate then protect idiosyncratic scientist Kay Amal Khan, who has been whisked off to rodent world to work with Dr Rat (played with a straight face) following strongarm persuasion from the book’s antagonist Rove, who’s not that keen on preserving all the timelines, but has dreams that there’ll always be an England, with the wilderness starting just beyond Berwick on Tweed.
An eclectic cast, then, of humans and not-so-humans, exploring evolutionary possibilities wrapped round a fast-paced end of the world plot with a bad guy, twists and turns and a slim, slim hope that all will be well.
I like this book. Tchaikovsky writes well, (if a little impenetrably in places) and many of his characters are nicely irreverent. There are too many of them in this book though, at least as point of view leads, and despite some broad brush signalling it’s often hard to differentiate, say, Julian and Lucas, or Lee and Alison, all of who are given head space for their similar, overlapping thoughts. And Khan, personality wise, is photocopied straight from the Expanse series’ Chrisjen Avasarala (the uber-cool take-no-prisoners Secretary General) who never lets the opportunity for a good swear-fest pass her by.
The story sags in the middle and it is easy to get lost in complexity. But then it gets really strange towards the end with a sequence of short chapters that do something original that grab your attention and lead, satisfyingly, to an unexpected denouement (though as the book points out for much of its 597 page length, everything is possible, from ice-planet supercomputers to world covering sentient grass fields). Worth the soggy middle to get to the stimulating ending.
See also Arthur's take on The Doors of Eden.
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