Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky
In a galaxy far, far away, life goes on as normal and it has absolutely nothing to do with this book. There are no Hutts, or Gungans or Ewoks anywhere. There are many other aliens, though, but then again, are they really alien at all? Confused? Then read on and this mystery will surely be solved by the intrepid Rebel Voice.
It’s the distant future. Humanity has reached for the stars and tentatively grasped them. Our descendants have mastered interstellar travel and are spread out across the galaxy. The home solar system of humans has been fully conquered and our species has since sought out new planets to populate. Some of these are in need of preparation and so terraforming becomes both an urgent necessity and controversial science.
It’s into this world that Dr Avana Kern steps to further humanity’s progress. But Kern has become increasingly disillusioned with Homo Sapiens. She embarks upon a new approach to terraforming in which a nano-virus, that she has created, is released onto a barren world along with specially selected earth-based life-forms. Foremost among these creatures are primates; monkeys to be exact. The idea is that the simians will evolve super-fast (due to the virus) and within a few generations attain a level of intelligence that will enable them to be more like humans and communicate on the same level as early people.
But it all goes horribly wrong. Humanity falls back on doing what it has always done, killing one another. The entire species becomes caught up in a series of wars in which computer systems, necessary for survival, are corrupted. People are wiped from all alien worlds in this catastrophic event as the essential IT upon which humanity has become dependent is rendered useless. On Earth, the remaining humans are thrust back almost to a stone age.
Dr Kern, meanwhile, has watched her primates burn up in the atmosphere of the new planet, as her own science vessel is destroyed. Avana manages to escape in a Sentry Pod designed to watch over the evolving planetary experiment. But the tiny satellite is unsuitable for normal habitation and can only offer Dr Kern refuge in a life-preserving stasis chamber. It’s there that she remains, dormant, as the nano-virus works its magic on those animals that did make it to the planet.
Fast-forward millennia, and the last tragic remnants of humanity have finally succeeded in reacquiring space-age technology. They’re not nearly as advanced as their precedents in the Old Empire, but are sufficiently equipped to escape a dying Earth, gradually polluted as it is by the previous Old Empire wars. Using old star maps, they set out in search of a new home. It’s this need that brings them to Kern’s World, a green planet that now seems perfect as a starting place for what’s left of the human race.
But Dr Kern is not dead. She has been kept alive by machines and, as a result, has become deranged. The new arrivals from Earth do not find a sympathetic ear in their fellow Earthling as she resolves to prevent humans from destroying her planet and its new life as they did to their home world. The problems for Kern are two-fold, however. The first is that the humans are desperate and therefore reluctant to leave their only chance at survival, even if Kern’s small craft has superior weapons. The second is that the life on Kern’s World is not what she thinks it is.
The emergent life on the terraformed world is the second, equally as involved, thread to this tale. It transpires that of all the small creatures to have evolved rapidly due to the nano-virus, it is the spiders who are leading the way. Kern wanted primates who would soon rival humans. Instead she gets highly intelligent spiders who are sentient, coordinated and very advanced.
Children of Time is an unusual premise and all the better for it. The two threads of both human and spider evolution are intriguing. It’s a novel theory of what could happen in a dystopian future and is strangely credible. The story of the spiders is particularly fascinating and well thought out. The reader becomes immersed in the advancing spider culture as well as the worsening plight of what’s left of humanity.
There are problems though. The plot is very interesting but loose, and even sloppy, in places. Although it is sci-fi, and must therefore be fantastical, there are elements that simply don’t work. Intelligent spiders? Yes. But the author takes many liberties in developing the spider technology. Still, such errors could have been more easily overlooked if it were not for the length of this tome. At 600 pages, Children of Time is a substantial read. It’s an epic story stretching over millennia and so could possibly be excused its length on this basis. However, the writing is too repetitive in too many places. It over-indulges the author in explanation. A 600 page read is acceptable if the story is tightly written. Sadly, this book fails in this and has a tendency to ramble. Children of Time is a good example of why a capable editor is so important. This story could have been written in half the number of pages.
The ending is very good and the path is open for a sequel. Should such a follow-up be written, Rebel Voice would hope that there are improvements in the finished product. This book has a great story-line, but it’s ruined. It has decent characters (both human and spider) and engaging settings. However the monotony of the story at times is due to over-elaboration and might leave you feeling sorely disappointed. It can be frustrating when a story that promises so much does little more than tease without ultimate satisfaction. Children of Time will dance provocatively before you, wiggling its ass. It will show you the bedroom door whilst whispering naughty words into your ear. Then it will lead you to the exit and boot your ass out into the street.
Sult scale rating: 5 out of 10. As Marlon Brando’s character might have said, this book could have been a contender. Unfortunately, some very poor editing (or lack thereof) failed the entire project. Hopefully, any sequel will have learned from the mistakes in this one. Rebel Voice recommends giving this book a miss, unless you are a very patient and dedicated fan of sci-fi.