Audiobook Review: Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 5 of 5 stars
Genre: Science Fiction
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Audible Studios (May 2, 2017)
Length: 16 hrs and 30 mins
Narrator: Mel Hudson
Children of Time was my first novel by this author, and wow, what a way to start my initiation into the Adrian Tchaikovsky fan club! I have never read anything quite like this book before, and I have to say the praise it’s gotten has been well deserved. I just loved this.
First of all we have this incredible story, which has everything in place for a space opera of the grandest proportions. Long ago, when Earth was on its last legs and humanity feared it could go no further, scientists were sent out beyond the solar system to find and terraform new planets to ensure the future of our species. One of them, the brilliant but megalomaniacal Dr. Avrana Kern was successful in locating such a world, but just as she was about to implement a nanotech virus to accelerate the development process, sabotage occurred. Kern’s monkeys that were intended for biological uplift were not deployed on the planet because they were all killed in the attack on her ship. Kern herself was forced to be transformed, reduced to an AI mind and a body preserved in stasis. However, her nanovirus, the one intended to speed up evolution in the monkeys, did in fact make it onto the planet, imbedding itself into—wait for it—a species of spiders.
Years and years go by. Earth is no more. Desperate humans take to the stars in generation ships like the Gilgamesh to find these terraformed planets their ancestors supposedly prepared for them, but instead of a welcoming home, they find Kern’s World and the repercussions of her genetically engineered virus. For generations, the planet’s inhabitants have been evolving as well, the uplifted spiders developing their own cultures, civilizations and knowledge. It is their world now, and they don’t take kindly to the assumptions of these strange looking humans who think they can just take over and live on their planet.
As a huge life sciences geek, I loved the ideas behind books like Children of Time or what some other science fiction fans call “biopunk”. The chapters aboard the Gilgamesh were compelling with their human drama and fight for survival, but in my opinion, it was the sections about the spiders which were the most fascinating. They were also what made this novel stand out from all the sci-fi I’ve read so far this year. Tchaikovsky details generations of evolution in the spiders’ biology as well as their culture, following compelling characters like the many iterations of Portia as her species develops language, religion, warfare, and other facets of civilization which they pass down to their descendants via a form of genetic memory. As such, they eventually become something akin to spiders but not as we understand them, having been altered by the virus but also by factors specific to their unique physiology. The author deserves extra bonus points too because it takes a real talent to write genuine, relatable and sympathetic non-human characters, and even more when they are effectively overgrown, freaky arachnids. Don’t think you can ever bring yourself to root for a giant spider? There’s a really good chance this book will change your mind.
I was also impressed by the way Tchaikovsky managed to tell this monumental saga—which takes place over thousands of years—without once being sidetracked or losing the story’s main thread. When it dawned on me what the author was trying to do, I didn’t think it was going to work, but oh, it does. In alternating sections, he explores the changes happening on Kern’s World as well as the various side plots unfolding on the Gilgamesh. Most of humanity’s last remnants are frozen in time, traveling in the cargo bay of the ark ship, but we do get to meet and stay with several of the key players like Holsten Mason and Isa Lain who survive the centuries by going in and out of stasis. Culture is evolving in its own way too on the Gilgamesh, and every time Holsten wakes he is hit with another shock of how perspectives and attitudes on the ship have changed since the last time he emerged. It just goes to show, adaptation isn’t something that’s happening only on the surface of Kern’s World, with both the spider and human storylines mirroring and complementing each other in the coolest way possible.
Basically, you have got to read this book. It’s gotten such high ratings for a reason. Children of Time is one of the smartest, most remarkable and innovative science fiction novels I’ve read in years and now I can’t wait to read more by Adrian Tchaikovsky.
Audiobook Comments: I loved Mel Hudson’s narration. Having a female reader really highlighted the spider chapters, and Hudson’s voice and accent exuded the perfect amount of acuity and class to bring characters like Portia to life. I don’t think I would have enjoyed myself as much if I had read the novel in print, so needless to say, I highly recommend this audiobook.