Apatt's Reviews > Children of Time

Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky
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it was amazing
bookshelves: favorites, sci-fi

Children of Time: Winner of the 2016 Arthur C. Clarke Award”. Most cumbersome book title ever (this is the full title of the edition I bought). Why did the publisher have to tag the award thing on the book’s original title? Fortunately, on the bright side, this is my only complaint about this book!

This book takes David Brin’s “uplift” concept and really runs with it. In Brin’s popular Uplift series, humanity have used technology to boost the intellect of selected species of animals to sentience level. I can’t quite remember the reason behind this, presumably to make them more useful and for other, more magnanimous, purposes. Indeed there is a direct tribute to Brin in Children of Time, in the form a little spaceship called Brin 2. However, the emphasis of the novel is not about the uplifting itself, but about the accidental sentient species that arise from the project and its subsequent interaction with humanity.

The original idea was to uplift monkeys to sentient levels through an infection of an engineered “nanovirus”, and put them on a habitable planet, but someone sabotaged that project and all the monkeys are killed. However, the nanovirus is sent to the intended planet and infects several species of insects instead. Spiders turn out to be the chief beneficiaries of this project as the virus is most effective on them. This starts off one of the two main narrative threads which chronicles the rise of the spider race as the ruler of the planet. The other narrative thread concerns a group of humans fleeing from Earth which is destroyed by a final world war, on an “ark ship” called “Gilgamesh”. This massive spaceship is carrying working crew and thousands of people in suspended animation, to be defrosted when a habitable planet is found. Unfortunately the only habitable they manage to find, after hundreds of years and generations of crew have come and gone, is the nice planet now ruled by the spiders.


Wonderful Polish edition cover

It has been a busy month so it took me almost three weeks to finish. Somehow it makes me appreciate the book even more as my constant companion to many places. The narrative is quite interesting from the first chapter and as characters, situations and world building are gradually laid down it becomes increasingly compelling, by the end of the book I was completely riveted. While the humans and spiders plotlines are given about equal time I was much more fascinated by the spiders, the culture, language and technology they develop after receiving their “increased cognitive capacity”. The spider protagonists are also very well developed, and quite admirable. I love sci-fi biotechnology, organic devices, homes and transportations. It is fascinating how the development spiders’ technology takes a different path from the humans, due to lack of metals and electricity. Their tech is based on hyper advanced biochemistry instead. I love how their society is ruled by the female, and the physically weaker and less intelligent males are generally disposable second class citizens. That is until a radical and messianic male spider comes along.

The human side of the story is less fascinating but it never drags down the narrative. Their state of affairs is quite pitiful compared to the spiders. They spend hundreds of years on board “the Gilgamesh”, key figures going in and out of suspended animation as needed. Generations are born on the spaceship and never set foot on a planet. The ark ship becomes a “generation ship” even though it was never designed to be used as one and the living conditions on board become rather cramped as the on board population expands. This being the case their need to settle on the spider’s planet is understandable. Unfortunately the humans believe in the cold logic of a concept called “the prisoner’s’ choice” which is based on mutual distrust because the cost of betrayal would mean complete annihilation. As the humans and the spiders head for collision that would result in genocide of one side or the other I found myself curiously rooting for the spiders; mainly because the spider characters are generally better developed and they do have the moral high ground of being the invadees, not the invaders. Thematically it is mainly a story of racial prejudice and a plea for tolerance, with both sides thinking that there is a necessity to completely wipe out the other side for the survival of the race.

Whatever the outcome Children of Time is one of the best space operas I have ever read, with a nice and clear writing style and a straightforward linear structure of the twin plotlines that make the book very accessible. The sci-fi tech is highly imaginative and the science behind it is clearly explained without resorting to infodumping; some very good characterization, thrilling plot developments and a very good ending makes this one of the greats for me. Highly recommended.
spiders line
Notes:
• In spite of the title this book has nothing to do with time travelling.

• In some ways, parts of this book are like Watership Down for spiders, and that is high praise! It may also be Charlotte's Web for adults? I haven't read that one, but my spider-sense says yes. It also reminds me a little bit of a computer game called Sim Ant.

• Tchaikovsky's study of psychology and zoology stand him in good stead here (he is also a keen amateur entomologist). Interestingly his fantasy series Shadows of the Apt is also based on insects. TBR'd!

spiders line
Quotes:
“There had been those back on Earth who claimed the universe cared, and that the survival of humanity was important, destined, meant. They had mostly stayed behind, holding to their corroding faith that some great power would weigh in on their behalf if only things became so very bad.”

“The enemy they face is the child of a technology she cannot conceive of, advanced beyond the dreams of her own kind’s greatest scientists, using a technology of metal and fire and lighting, all fit tools for vengeful deities. At her disposal is fragile silk, biochemistry and symbiosis, and the valour of all those who will put their lives at her disposal.”

“Life is not perfect, individuals will always be flawed, but empathy – the sheer inability to see those around them as anything other than people too – conquers all, in the end.”

“That is the problem with ignorance. You can never truly know the extent of what you are ignorant about.”

“I consider CoT to be an outreach program for literate-minded arachnophobics :) There has been a pleasant number of readers who really don't like spiders but (a) have got through the book; and (b) have come out of it willing to give the little guys the benefit of the doubt. Of course now I need to stealth-write a book that has spiders as utterly horrible people-destroying bad guys just to utterly throw my readership...”

From Adrian Tchaikovsky's Reddit AMA.
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Reading Progress

February 5, 2018 – Shelved
February 5, 2018 – Shelved as: to-read
March 7, 2018 – Started Reading
March 26, 2018 – Finished Reading
March 27, 2018 – Shelved as: favorites
March 27, 2018 – Shelved as: sci-fi

Comments Showing 1-22 of 22 (22 new)

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message 1: by Cecily (new)

Cecily I was going to read your whole review, but your opening claim "Most cumbersome book title ever." has set me on the path to finding worse....
See ya later!


message 2: by Cecily (new)

Cecily My first stop was Manny's shelves, but I didn't even need to go there. There's one of his own books: Putting Linguistics into Speech Recognition: The Regulus Grammar Compiler (Studies in Computational Linguistics.


message 3: by Cecily (last edited Mar 27, 2018 05:39AM) (new)

Cecily A couple of others, among many:
The People Are Going to Rise Like the Waters Upon Your Shore: A Story of American Rage
Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History

The best/worst one I half remember is a self-published book with a huge long title, all in shouty capitals, about the evils of contraception.

Bored now, so will read your review!


message 4: by Cecily (new)

Cecily Despite the lack of time travel (thanks for the warning), this sounds pretty good - unless one's an arachnophobe. Splendid review.


Apatt Cecily wrote: "Despite the lack of time travel (thanks for the warning), this sounds pretty good - unless one's an arachnophobe. Splendid review."

LOL! and I was so hapy to see 4 coments in such a short time. Still, you can't have too many Cecilies!


Lars Dradrach Great review as Always, I quite enjoyed is as well even though it has spiders in it (detest spiders ! )


message 7: by Kevin (last edited Mar 27, 2018 10:03AM) (new)

Kevin Ansbro "Watership Down for spiders"
I can see how you would root for the spiders given their circumstance.
A jaw-droppingly good review, Apatt!


message 8: by Cecily (new)

Cecily Apatt wrote: "LOL! and I was so hapy to see 4 coments in such a short time...."


https://media.giphy.com/media/kTUQYaa...

Apatt wrote: "Still, you can't have too many Cecilies!"

Ah, a sweet sentiment - except that names ending in Y don't fit the "change the Y into I and add ES" rule, so the plural of Cecily is Cecilys!


message 9: by Michael (new)

Michael Awesome review, spiritually, biologically, artistically, and nutritionally. Now what are we going to do. I bumbled into a great read of his Ironclads, from last fall, which features a zippy set of characters in a tech war between companies using drone swarms. The problem is where to turn for the best cream skimming of his best stuff. He is damned prolific, logging about 25 books.


Apatt Michael wrote: "Awesome review, spiritually, biologically, artistically, and nutritionally. Now what are we going to do. I bumbled into a great read of his Ironclads, from last fall, which features..."

Thank you so much, Michael. I read some where that Children of Time is his first sci-fi novel. Before that he wrote some fantasy series. I didn't realize he has Ironclads, another sci-fi under his belt.
There is an allegorical aspect to this novel that I will have to add on, it's a story about racial prejudice and tolerence.


Apatt Kevin wrote: ""Watership Down for spiders"
I can see how you would root for the spiders given their circumstance.
A jaw-droppingly good review, Apatt!"


Thank you, Kev! I have to add more thoughtful stuff that just occured to me, from reading your comment, no less!


Apatt Lars wrote: "Great review as Always, I quite enjoyed is as well even though it has spiders in it (detest spiders ! )"

Thanks, Lars. I am a bit surprised how much I like it, it's really fab!


Apatt Cecily wrote: "Apatt wrote: "LOL! and I was so hapy to see 4 coments in such a short time...."


https://media.giphy.com/media/kTUQYaa...

Apatt wrote: "Still, you can't have too many Cecilies!"

Ah,..."


Is that the bloke from Misfits?


message 14: by Cecily (last edited Mar 27, 2018 11:02PM) (new)

Cecily Apatt wrote: "Is that the bloke from Misfits?"

No idea. I Googled for gifs about disappointment!


Apatt Cecily wrote: "Apatt wrote: "Is that the bloke from Misfits?"

No idea. I Googled for Gifs about disappointment!"


Well, I am appropriately disappointed!


message 16: by Cecily (last edited Mar 27, 2018 11:02PM) (new)

Cecily Oh no! A circle of disappointment! And I can't even find an appropriate gif for that. So here's a circle of confuzzlement:

http://rellacafa.com/wp-content/uploa...

And no, it's not an animated gif; just a static image.


Apatt Cecily wrote: "Oh no! A circle of disappointment! And I can't even find an appropriate gif for that. So here's a circle of confuzzlement:

http://rellacafa.com/wp-content/uploa......"


I was just enjoying it when you said it's static, then it stopped moving! 😤


message 18: by Jenn "JR" (new)

Jenn "JR" Those things are nuts - if I look away and only see it out of my peripheral vision then they do the animation thing but not if I look right at it - is that right?


message 19: by Cecily (new)

Cecily Yep, that's right - or at least, it's how it works for me.


carol. I rather like the cover for the Polish edition, after having read the book. I suspect it might have been off-putting to me when picking it up :D


Apatt Carol. wrote: "I rather like the cover for the Polish edition, after having read the book. I suspect it might have been off-putting to me when picking it up :D"

🤣 Pity no fan art for this book. Adrian Tchaikovsky is an interesting guy though: https://www.reddit.com/r/Fantasy/comm...


message 22: by carol. (last edited Mar 29, 2018 11:00PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

carol. That was hilarious, especially, "always about the spiders" and "As per the acknowledgements, I owe them a great deal in making the weird-ass idea into something reasoned and palatable."

Thanks, Apatt!


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