Every once and a while you will pick up a book with the expectation that it will be fun, or interesting, and it simply blows your mind with how far it left your expectations behind. When I picked up Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky, I had no idea what I was in for. More than an epic space tale about intelligent spiders, Children of Time touches on profound philosophy, scientific theorems, morality, mortality, and things I am still trying to comprehend.
Released in 2015, Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Children of Time was a significant success. Collecting multiple awards, including the 2016 Arthur C. Clarke Award for the best science fiction novel of the year. The 4.3 Goodreads rating, or 5/5 SF Book Reviews score, is a testament to the writing. But, anybody who has read this book will tell you how profound, and magnificent in scale it is.
I am going to do my best to lay out this plot that spans millennia and multiple star systems over a humble 186,000-word count. Stick with me.
In the far future, scientists are taking a new approach to the colonisation of other planets. In a radical new experiment, scientists have created a virus that will accelerate the evolutionary process in apes. As they attempt to plant the virus and apes on a semi-habitable planet, things go terribly wrong. I mean, epically wrong, back home on Earth the war to end all wars has finally broken out. And with it, the experiment is sabotaged. One dedicated leader, Dr Kern, manages to launch the package, but unfortunately, the apes do not make the voyage.
Skip ahead a good few hundred years, and the surviving human civilisation on Earth is finally forced to leave the planet, as it dies. The last survivors of the human race are put to sleep in the arc ship, Gilgamesh. By pure chance, the Gilgamesh chooses to chase down a beacon that leads to Dr Kerns planet. However, when they arrive they find Kern is alive, and her surviving satellite is still capable of destroying the Gilgamesh, and that is what she will do, shall they interrupt her experiment- in which she has no idea if it is working or not.
Meanwhile, we get to follow in significant milestones of the civilisation on the planet. From savages to building communities, all the way to a civilised society. The only thing is, there were no apes to evolve, the virus mutated and began to affect the other major creatures on the planet, spiders. These spiders were able to create amazing technology fitting more to their species, to the point where they make it to space and communicate with their maker, Dr Kern.
As the spiders evolve and become more civilised, the humans on the Gilgamesh are seemingly de-evolving, as a species living in one boat. A boat that has been sailing for thousands of years. When the Gilgamesh returns to Kerns Planet, as the only habitable planet they have ever found, they find the spiders prepared for their return. And two species face off for control of the planet.
Two different stories are being told at the same time, that clash in conclusion. While the humans strive for survival in their hunt for a habitable planet, they are also cursed with limited resources and a ship that can only survive so long. On the other hand, we get to see how another creature may thrive with a planet to themselves. It is brilliant the way that they face problems that have encountered us like disease and war. And, how their technologies differ from our own with their own unique abilities.
This novel is so much more than a science fiction space battle with spiders. It is a philosophical look at civilisation, evolution, and purpose. It delves deep with major sub-plots on artificial intelligence, war, and spirituality. With a concluding internal battle for the reader; who deserves to survive? Humans whose own faults have left them with what little they have left or, an arachnid species that owes its entire consciousness to the gods whom now want their planet.
Children of Time is a book like no other I have read. I honestly never wanted it to end. The alternate reality history lesson was on such a grand scale I have been left craving answers to many of my curiosities. The profound nature of it all has had me questioning my own reality while reading descriptive prose on arachnids made me feel squeamish. A 5/5 book, this is easily the best novel I have read yet this year. I recommend that everyone read it. I mean everyone. This is beyond a book for sci-fi fans, but a book for humanity as a whole.
Thanks booknerds, I still hate spiders.