(2015) Adrian Tchaikovsky, Tor, £18.99, hrdbk, 600pp, ISBN 978-1-447-27328-9
Adrian Tchaikovsky’s venture into science fiction is a weighty tome of six hundred pages. The opening diverts from his usual sober start by immediately establishing the extended crisis of the book. Avrana Kern seeks to re-establish humanity free of the mistakes of others by terraforming a planet and evolving a new human race by populating it with monkeys, in essence reversing part of Arthur C. Clarke's most famous plot and placing us as the monolith to a new society.
Unfortunately, Kern's ideas are thrown off course by a rebellion on Earth and amongst her own crew. She is left alone to watch over the development of her 'children'.
Tchaikovsky makes use of time and distance to bring epic qualities to this story. The evolution of Kern's children is enhanced through the use of a nano-virus, but even with this, it takes many thousands of years for sentience to establish itself amongst them. This makes for a story of generational change and evolution amongst the children and allows time for humanity’s last remnants to arrive and attempt to reclaim this new terraformed Eden.
Tchaikovsky’s form with alternative biological intelligence and societies is well established to fantasy fans with his ten-book Shadows of the Apt series. Readers of this will be familiar with his blending of insect cultures into fantastical human societies, but here, we go a little further as the people of Kern’s World have a very different ecology to ours and the generational/evolutional change brought about through the passage of time lets us return to their development at different stages. The scenes from the perspective of the ‘children’ are reminiscent of Asimov’s alternate reality in The Gods Themselves; a very underrated book.
By contrast, the humans of the story, refugees and survivors from Earth, crammed aboard the Gilgamesh in cold sleep at first, but later amidst generations of survivors, are struggling to preserve the apex knowledge of their species. They are a second wave, fleeing into space on a path trodden by their more advanced ancestors, hoping there is green grass out their somewhere far away from their poisoned home. We remain with key characters who are woken during important moments of the ship’s mammoth exodus. These individuals are trapped out of time, their relationships and situations play out over centuries.
Children of Time plays some familiar cards from the aforementioned Clarke and Asimov, but manages to steer its own path. The result is a story that manages to surprise but also convey a sense of gravitas and weight. This is Tchaikovsky’s first venture into out-and-out Science Fiction space opera of this type and it is a very successful match of writer to premise. A twist is kept right until the end as well with enough setting and situation left over for further stories, should the writer want to return, although matters are all wrapped up with what we have.
Fans of Adrian Tchaikovsky will enjoy this standalone foray into space and time. For those who have not read his work before, it is also a great place to start.
Editorial update: Children of Time has won the 2016 Clarke (book) Award.
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