The Children of Time


Adrian Tchaikovksy


Science Fiction / Fantasy


Date Reviewed:

October 6, 2017

he Children of Time reminded me of Vernor Vinge's Hugo Award winning novel from 2000, A Deepness in the Sky - both novels tell the stories about humanity's first contact with a civilization of spiders. The Children of Time also contains the same epic scope as Vinge's works - vast numbers of years pass in this novel. It is a novel with big ideas and with a broad canvas. I don't mean to imply that Tchaikovksy's work is derivative, his world building and ideas are unique and terrific. The Children of Time won the 2016 Arthur C. Clarke award, so it is a novel strong enough to stand on its own merits. This book is 600 pages long, and it needs all of those pages to tell a story this big and dramatic.

In The Children of Time, Earth is in desperate condition. The planet's environment is degraded and crashing. A fleet of colony ships is assembled, each targeting a different star. The colony ship Gilgamesh is loaded with sleeping colonists to sail thru the stars in the hope of finding a new planet. In the distant past, Earth probes were sent ahead to solar systems with candidate planets for Earth-type life. The mission was to terraform planets for eventual colonization (amazing to see humans making such long term plans!), When the probe arrived at Brin's world, it sent down an "uplift" nano-virus, which is supposed to enhance the intelligence of the primates on the planet. (This is an obvious homage to David Brin, author of the Uplift series of books, of which I only read Startide Rising and was disappointed). Doctor Kern is the scientist who is supposed to direct the uplift on the planet, but things go wrong. Dreadfully wrong. Kern manages to escape into an emergency capsule, but finds herself orbiting above the planet but helpless to do much about the events on the surface below.

On the surface, the uplift virus has infected an unintended host - eight legged, web spinning creatures with exoskeletons - creatures that on Earth would be called spiders. The reader is given a grand tour of history of spider civilization. Generations zip past. Due a convenient memory transference mechanism, the descendants of each mother retain the knowledge and behavior of the progentitor who founded their line. Indeed, in each successive generation the spider adopts the name of their ancestor. Although this seems a bit implausible to me (don't spiders lay thousands of eggs?), it makes it easy to track the spider characters as their civilization lurches forward, gaining technology and understanding with fitful leaps and bounds. This intermittent progress is one of the joys of the book: watching an alternate history as intelligent species rises from primitive behavior to advanced science. This has a "Deep Time" feel to it - the eons swiftly flow by, giving the book an epic flavor. To bring up another Vernor Vinge novel, it is similar to Across Realtime, one of the best novels at giving a sense of what millions of years REALLY is about. Up above the planet, still orbiting in her escape pod, Doctor Kern goes mad as the centuries roll on.

The colony ship arrives in the system, and finds that their intended planet is inhabited. They also discover that Doctor Kern is alive, sorta, and has strong opinions about their colonization goals.

The novel has two threads - one follows the history of the rapidly evolving spiders, the other tells the story of the human colonists and the challenges they face. Inevitably, the two civilizations meet. Tchaikovksy is careful to balance the level of technology between the two suspicious groups. Neither party is so much stronger than the other that they can just wipe them out. Communication is a big deal - I like how the spiders pluck their webs vibrate the threads for communicating, which of course is a method of communication completely alien to the humans.

Tchaikovksy put a lot of thought into this novel. His spider civilization is unique and fun to read about. This is the first novel by him that I have read, but now I want to read more. This book is highly recommended!