Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
There's something wildly giddy welling up within me, and I blame it entirely on this book.
There have been a couple of brilliant SF titles to come out this year and I would swear belong on the Hugo list, and this is yet one more. Kim Stanley Robinson's Aurora was one, as was Scott Hawkins's The Library at Mount Char, but if I had to break down the individual merits of each, I might wind up saying that this one deserves it the most. For pure SF, it hits the heights of ideas, memorable characters, exploration, and message, although the message is definitely not one that is apparent until the end.
It has all the hallmarks of a good classic SF tale, and I was reminded every step of the way of John Brunner's The Crucible of Time, with the bringing up of an alien society from its primitive roots to space exploration, the wild quest of humanity trying to survive it's own stupidity in over ten thousand years of desperate Ark travel, and throw into the mix a great mad cyborg/AI god/scientist who's belief system gets sorely challenged.
If all that isn't enough to perk you up, then how about a society of biopunk spiders learning to tame themselves and their world with the propelling help of a nanovirus designed to uplift an entirely different species, but lacking those poor monkeys, had to make due with some jumping spiders from old Earth?
Oh yeah. Now we're talking. From page one we get a precious nod to David Brin for his wonderful Uplift series, but right as we begin to suspect that it's a rip-off, everything goes to hell. I call that an auspicious beginning.
And then we get slices of alien life complete with great self-contained stories, with nothing worthless to the grand over-tale being spun, including the war and eventual domestication of deadly intelligent army ants, the fight for the poor male spider's rights (who don't appreciate being eaten after mating), and the eventual discovery that the original scientist that had seeded the world with the nanovirus, who still lived as a cyborg, was not, in fact, a god.
And if that isn't enough, let's get to know the human side of the equation. They've had a rough time climbing back out of a dark age only to discover that the Earth is a complete shit hole and there's nothing left to be saved. They rose on the backs of the dead society that had brought humanity to this pass and went out to search for a new home. Unfortunately, everything has gone to shit except this one little paradise that's defended by a mad cyborg god who thinks that humans are shit. (And she's right.) She'll protect her precious project from anything that dares disturb it.
Great conflict ensues.
My god this was a great book. I had a bit of a learning curve in the first few dozen pages getting over the somewhat sparse writing, but there's a purpose to it. A hell of a lot has to happen to build such an enormous tale without stretching it out into a dozen equivalent and impoverished books. In this one novel, we get everything. It's brilliant.
I'll revisit this review at a later time and see if it still captures my imagination as much as the other Hugo Possibles, but my mind wants to put all my bets on this one. The flaws in Aurora, despite the brilliant setup, message, and end, are just enough to push it down a rung for me. Library at Mount Char was mostly dark fantasy with a damn huge nod at turning it into a real SF title, and I still think it's awesome and mythic, but if I had to choose between something that's obviously SF to the core and beyond and a great book that has more in common with American Gods and Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, (both of which won Hugos in their years despite being fantasies), then I'd choose Children of Time.
Unfortunately, I'm going to have to sit on the fence. Having to choose between two novels that are very different in scope, writing, and characterizations is a hell of a thing. Both are fantastic at what they do. I cried during both. I'll just have to revisit my memories later to be certain.
Oh, there is one more thing I need to mention.
I hate the title.
It does absolutely NOTHING to enumerate how fucking awesome this epic SF is. Fans of any classic SF need to read this gem. It has a hell of a lot more flow to it, and just as much idea exploration as anything written by Alastair Reynolds. Go get it. Now.
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