Adrian Tchaikovsky is best known for his fantasy series, Shadows of the Apt. In his new novel, Children of Time, (published today by Macmillan, advance copy courtesy of NetGalley) he takes a different direction, writing hard SF.
Children of Time follows two parallel story arcs. In the first, the inhabitants of an ark ship called the Gilgamesh are fleeing a polluted and dying Earth. They are seeking a new home for humanity. They spend most of their time in cryogenic stasis, waking occasionally to deal with crises and examine potential new home planets. The story is told mainly from the perspective of a classicist who is an expert in the ‘Old Empire’ civilisation that wiped itself out in a global war. The ensuing ice age returned the survivors to a more primitive way of life, with society struggling to piece together enough technology to escape and find a new home.
The second story arc follows the evolution and development of a society of super-evolved spiders on an experimental world terraformed by the Old Empire at its height. Although the experiment had originally been intended for primates, none survived to reach the surface of the planet and the nano-virus designed to hasten evolution and embed certain traits has taken hold in the invertebrate population of the planet instead. We follow a spider called Portia and her descendants as they build complex societies, create new technology and come into conflict.
The vast time scale over which the story plays out makes this a truly epic novel. It’s placed firmly at the harder end of the SF spectrum, with nods to prominent figures in the genre: a spacestation orbiting the terraformed world is called the Brin Sentry Pod, for example. This means that its focus is very much on the underlying ideas about how humanity would cope with a civilisation-ending disaster, rather than looking at the human impact.
The novel forces you to make interesting comparisons between a conflict-ridden human society and a spider culture genetically engineered to avoid conflict and work together as far as possible. It poses questions about whether history is determinative, and what rights we have to steer the fate of other cultures and civilsations.
At the time of writing, I’ve not yet finished reading the novel, but it’s a very interesting piece and should be enjoyed by lovers of hard SF.