Oh, what a tangled web…
Dear people who read my posts:
I will be posting my reviews of science fiction movies, series and novels here. On my other book blog,
you’ll find reviews of horror novels, movies. http://marjoriekayesbookblog.com.
The Children of Time
Adrian Tchaikovsky’s The Children of Time, consists of two narratives that alternate throughout.
They share a beginning and come together at the end.
I loved this book and highly recommend it to anyone who loves science fiction,
I found one story was riveting, the other, less so.
The beginning is set in the future, hundreds of years from now. We’re on a
top-secret space mission, light-years away from Earth.
The mission is to ensure humanity’s survival. As the ship circles a planet,
destined to be a new Eden, Dr. Avrana Kern, a scientist whose ego is the size
of a supernova, prepares to complete her mission. Kern heads a team that will
“seed” this new world (she secretly calls “Kern World”), delivering a huge
cylindrical crate filled with young apes, (a barrel of monkeys). Soon,
this package of primates will land on the new world.
Accompanying the apes is a case filled with a genetically engineered virus.
The plan is for the apes to settle in their new home while the virus spreads,
accelerating their intellect, along with civilization-building social skills. The
end result in a few generations will be a new type of human, one not contaminated by the toxic mix
of warring ideologies that threatens to destroy humanity. Kern, who seems ever more annoying, calls
them “my monkeys.”
Back on Earth, some people want humans to continue to evolve by using genetics as well as
developing more powerful and sophisticated AI systems.
The other group rejects the whole “super human” and “super Hal” ideas. We should stay our “natural
selves” (though that hasn’t seemed to work out so far). There are wars, terrorists, pollution and poverty—
all the things that say home sweet home.
Not so fast Dr. Know-it-all, because just as the ape barrel and barrels of other Earth fauna are
launched, bombs planted by a crew member, a spy of NUN (Non Ultra Natura!) explode,
killing the apes and the entire crew except Dr. Kern, who manages to escape in a sentry pod where
a designated crew member (who was the NUN bomber) was to orbit the planet until the accelerated
evolution of the apes signal developing technology and the time to call Earth Central.
Clearly not happy and wishing there had been time to give the traitor a piece of her impressive mind,
Kern looks out the pod window.
Seeing her favorite barrel burning, she despairs. Never one to give up, Kern is determined to round
up more monkeys and try again. She sends an SOS back to Earth. Knowing that her message will take
decades to get there and then decades for help to come, she decides to put herself in cold storage.
But the ship’s computer isn’t happy and peppers Kern with “what-if” questions. Rolling her eyes,
Kern uploads her mind. AI Kern can make decisions while keeping her physical self zip-locked until
it’s rescue time and she’s defrosted.
Two stories, told in alternating chapters, stem from Kern’s attempt to create a new branch of the
human family tree.
One takes us far into the future, hundred of years after Kern’s message. We’re on the ark ship Gilgamesh
which carries what’s left of humanity. Years of war not only destroyed the Earth but all of the settlement
planets. People take turns coming out of cold storage to operate and maintain the ship and to look for
planets suitable for colonization. During the time out of storage, people continue to age, a good reason
to limit these active periods.Attempts with test colonies have ended in disaster. Things are getting testier
on the ship. As always, factions develop and there’s fighting.
If this continues, soon, we’ll go the way of the dodos.
If humanity is to survive, we must find a new home and oh look, there’s a pretty green planet!
Let’s check it out.
The second story is the one that I couldn’t put down. All the main characters are spiders. You see,
even though the monkeys didn’t make it, the virus did, as well as a barrel filled with spiders, ants
and other creepy crawlies. Barrels intact, small mammals also survive. The virus works its magic
not on the mammals, but on the spiders.
Tchaikovsky, who is a zoologist, shows us the evolution of creatures I occasionally
find in my shower before sending them to their next life.
Beginning with two spiders that collaborate in bringing down their prey, each spider chapter chronicles
the way a spider society might evolve and what challenges it might face as it develops a credible
technology. Portia is one of the names given to certain lady spiders that play major roles in each stage of
the spider evolution story. Bianca is another. The name of Fabian pops ups up for male spiders. To each
Portia, the light moving across the night sky is a god. The light comes from Kern’s Pod.
When the Gilgamesh encounters the spider world, all on board are excited.
Then the pod AI, Kern, who has observed signs of intelligent life on her pet project, assumes that
somehow, a few of the simians survived. She threatens to destroy the Ark. It mustn’t contaminate
“her” monkeys. The sentry pod carries formidable weapons, more sophisticated than the dated
technology of the Gilgamesh. The ship leaves, hoping to find another promising planet. They don’t.
Eventually, they come back.
At this point, neither AI Kern nor the Gilgamesh crew knows that the planet has smart spiders.
Along with technology, culture and politics, new social norms develop. Male spiders are smaller
than females and considered less intelligent. Led by one of the Fabians, they fight for equal rights.
Progress means it is no longer socially acceptable to eat the father of your children.
Eventually, after centuries of wandering the galaxy and finding no suitable planet to call home, the
Gilgamesh returns to Spider World. As they orbit the planet, the ship’s crew is horrified to see what’s
looking back at them from the surface. The planet’s current tenants glare back at them. Each face has
more than two eyes. Just before the crew scours the Gilgamesh in search of a big can of Raid, AI Kern
readies the big guns. Although a little unsettled by the results of her planet seeding, Kern is determined
to protect her eight-legged “children.” By this time, the spiders have made their first forays into space
and the arachnid versus the humans battle is on.
I loved the outcome of this three-way showdown. It was a resolution I had not already guessed.
It surprised me.
I did have issues with the Gilgamesh story. I had difficulties with the dialect of the Ark humans. It often
sounded like British generic-bad-guy-speak. I realize that my American language filter was my problem,
but for me, it was an obstacle in terms of following the narrative and investing in the characters, especially
because of the continued war between factions. Also, there was little character development. The brief time
the characters were active might partially explain this. Even the people on board, who aren’t on your
friends list on the ship Facebook page, are members of a seriously endangered species. This should have
led to some serious survival kumbaya. Literally in the same boat, these humans never seem to just get
along nor do they learn anything other than ways to keep alive. Finding a new home is not the only priority.
A new attitude would help.
In contrast, the author details the ways spiders might converse and explores aspects of a fictional
The wars for dominance between spider colonies and assaults by armies of marauding ants fascinated me.
Using his knowledge of spiders, Tchaikovsky imagines the development of arachnid literature and art.
Religion (the Kern Pod/God) plays an important role in their values plus conflict between belief and
non-belief drives much of the story.
Mr. Tchaikovsky’s award-winning Children of Time was worth my time.
I may read it again. Spider lover or not, lovers of sci fi should make room on their reading list for
The Children of Time.