Children of Time
by Adrian Tchaikovsky
Who will inherit this new Earth? The last remnants of the human race left a dying Earth, desperate to find a new home among the stars. Following in the footsteps of their ancestors, they discover the greatest treasure of the past age – a world terraformed and prepared for human life.
But all is not right in this new Eden. In the long years since the planet was abandoned, the work of its architects has borne disastrous fruit. The planet is not waiting for them, pristine and unoccupied. New masters have turned it from a refuge into mankind’s worst nightmare.
Now two civilizations are on a collision course, both testing the boundaries of what they will do to survive. As the fate of humanity hangs in the balance, who are the true heirs of this new Earth?
I received an eARC of Children of Time from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
I’m not 100% sure if I actually enjoyed reading this book or not, but I think this might be one of the best sci-fi novels I’ve ever read.
That surprises me, because I haven’t given it 5 stars and I had some problems with it – I didn’t love this novel the same way I love some of my favourites like Feed or The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet – but wow. This is a good book.
Set in a future in which humans have ruined the earth, the last of humankind are aboard a ship seeking a new home. Some years before they set off, an experiment gone wrong has given sentience to creatures on a planet that would be perfect for mankind to make a fresh start on, but how are they supposed to start again on a planet literally crawling with giant spiders?
Children of Time spans thousands of years, watching a new species evolve while mankind sleeps through space, searching for somewhere to settle, and it’s epic in the truest sense of the word.
This novel rewards patience and, I must admit, I didn’t have a lot of it at times. Nothing really feels like it’s happening for the first third of the book, but all that build-up is needed so you get the full scope of the story by the time it draws to a close. I did feel like I was waiting quite a long time for anything to happen, though, and I think part of that was because I assumed the majority of this book would take place on the planet, with mankind fighting for ownership of it with its eight-legged occupants. I’m not sure where I got that idea from, but I’m glad I stuck with this book when I realised that wasn’t the case.
Honestly for me its biggest weakness is how much I didn’t care about the human characters. I did like Isa Lain a lot – I’m sure no one who’s read the book is surprised given how much I love my grouchy women in SFF – but when we’re with the humans we follow them through the eyes of classicist Holsten Mason who, for the most part, I found incredibly annoying. I kept waiting for him to do something, but he’s the kind of character who just lets stuff happen to and around him instead and that made the early human chapters, in particular, very boring to read.
Holsten was often out of the loop with what was going on, being woken every few hundred years to show us how things were progressing with mankind, and I just didn’t find following him around that fun. He didn’t seem to have a personality.
By the end of the novel I did care about the human characters a lot more, and they and their story needed to be there for this book to work, but this novel could have been a 5 star all-time favourite if I’d cared about any of the characters at all in that first third. I need characters I can root for. I don’t have to like them, I just have to be invested in them.
All that aside, I did love the spiders.
I know. I’m just as shocked as you are.
For full disclosure, I’m severely arachnophobic and have been my whole life. Earlier this year I went in the shower and sobbed for a full 10-15 minutes after a spider crawled into my t-shirt, and it’s only really this year that I’ve found the courage to catch spiders under a glass and put them outside. Before I had to get someone else to do it, and even now, if the spider’s particularly big, I’ll cry and shake while I’m putting them outside.
So I think it says something for Tchaikovsky’s writing that he made me care so much for the arachnids he created. I loved the world and culture he built up around them, and how he was able to explore gender inequality by flipping it on its head in the spiders’ matriarchal society where, for many years, the males are seen as mentally inferior and only good for mating.
I think I enjoyed the sections following the spiders most not only because we actually got to know them better as characters than the humans, but also because their sections read like a fantasy novel to me. As I’m sure most of you know, I’m much more of a fantasy girl than a sci-fi girl at heart, so reading about their laws and their priestesses felt like stepping into a strange, new high fantasy world.
I did find some of the earlier scenes a little difficult to read. I definitely got the heebie-jeebies more than once, but once I got used to the spiders as narrators I started to like them more and more, and when the novel switched back to follow the humans I just wanted to see what the spiders were doing. I never thought I’d say that in a million years.
I can’t say this is an easy read – a lot of the science and technology stuff still went over my head because I’m just not science-brained in the slightest – but it’s not difficult, either. It’s a challenging book, but that’s no bad thing, and even when I was getting frustrated that nothing was happening I still kept going back to it because I just had to know what was going to happen next. That’s not a skill all authors have.
After being sure I was going to give this book 2 stars when I first started to read it, I finished Children of Time completely in awe of what Tchaikovsky has accomplished. I completely understand why this book won the Arthur C. Clarke Award and why it’s been rated so highly. I’ll be thinking about this book for a long time and while I’m in no rush to get to Children of Ruin, because frankly my brain feels like it needs a break, I’m definitely up for returning to this world in future.
That’s right. I want to read more about the spiders. Who even am I?