Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky
Published: Tor, 2015
Awards Won: Arthur C. Clarke Award
“At the technological height of human civilization, a great project was undertaken. Planets were carefully terraformed and seeded with Earth-based life. A virus was loosed on the animals, designed to aid in their rise to sentience, and humanity eagerly awaited contact with their newly-created sentient alien species.
Then, humanity fell. The few surviving members of the species have left their poisoned, dying Earth behind and journeyed into the stars in a final, desperate voyage. When they find a terraformed planet, it seems like a dream come true. But that planet was never meant for them, and its new inhabitants--a civilization of massive sentient spiders--are far from the gentle uplifted monkeys their ancestors had hoped for. The spiders’ planet also has a caretaker, the last remnants of a human mind wielding ancient, deadly technology. Time will tell whether humanity will survive, or will ultimately be supplanted by its own creations.” ~Allie
This is the first novel I’ve read by Adrian Tchaikovsky, and I chose it because it won the Arthur C. Clarke Award. I have a very strong revulsion to spiders, but somehow it did not destroy this book for me! It helped that the spiders’ civilization was so interesting.
Two stories make up the basis of the novel: the development of the spiders’ civilization, and a dying humanity’s final journey. The two sides made a satisfying balance, one story of birth and growth, and the other of decline and death. The spiders’ story was told over many generations, linking each set of characters by common names and roles. I loved the creativity and careful thought that clearly went into imagining the spider culture. Their artificial initial conditions were taken into account, and the impact was carefully woven into their growth in an organic way. There are many places where I could see a parallel to the development of human civilization, but the details of their world were often utterly different. For example, their biology, methods of communication and resources sent their technological progressed in a completely different direction than ours. I may have a deep, irrational fear of spiders, but even I can admit that their world was fascinating.
The humans, on the other hand, were fleeing their dead and poisoned homeworld, so their side of the story was considerably more bleak and depressing. It was also a little more familiar, as it incorporated a lot of common tropes of generation ship tales. Their story took place within the lifetime of a single generation, but with many interludes of cold sleep. The protagonist and a small group of human crew struggled to keep the ship working, to find a new world, and generally approached each setback with the knowledge that they were the last of their species. I enjoyed their story, though the characters were not as memorable as some we meet in the generations of spiders.
From the beginning, I did not think it would take long for the humans and spiders to begin interacting directly. In the end, though, the two stories were kept largely separate for a large part of the novel. In retrospect, I think seeing them both separately helped to emphasize the validity of the needs and desires of each group. Neither the spiders nor the humans were the ‘bad guys’. Conflict between them arose from finite resources, lack of ability to communicate, and naturally ingrained instincts--not from moral considerations. I also appreciated how believably the novel demonstrates the human tendency to violence in the face of otherness. The massive spiders are just familiar enough to humans to evoke a visceral panic response. I was surprised by how the story eventually concluded, but it was a good surprise. I can't think of a better way to have wrapped up this excellent novel.
My Rating: 5/5
Children of Time tells two stories, one about the beginning of a species and one about the potential end. I loved reading about the development of the sentient spiders’ creative and alien culture over many generations, even though spiders creep me out. The human side was more standard, with the remainder of the human race facing a long space journey with an uncertain end. I enjoyed both stories, though the spiders’ civilization was definitely the most impressive aspect of the book. Overall, I found the book the be very entertaining, and the ending was surprising and satisfying. I’m curious to see if Tchaikovsky plans to write more science fiction novels!