Humanity has reached levels of technology that are verging on godlike and now, having found no other life in the galaxy, they are using those abilities to really play god; attempting to raise Terran monkeys to full sentience on a terraformed planet far from Sol. Meanwhile back at the solar system humanity’s continuous bickerings really do look like they might put an end to the human race this time. Leaving only a few humans on Earth reduced to savages clawing their way back to technology and escaping the poisoned Earth that they have inherited. They head for the only other terraformed planet they know of. Only the great experiment there went a little wrong and instead of sentient monkeys we have sentient spiders. Not recommended for suffers of arachnophobia!
Tchaikovsky has created a brilliant piece of hard science fiction that explores all that’s best and worst in humanity contrasting it with the evolving arachnid civilisation; the story alternating between the human refugees’ point of view and that of the spiders. The refugees’ single ark ship is old and failing and the only habitable planet around is already occupied. All the science and lack of it is completely plausible and all the actions and motivations of both the humans and spiders is equally plausible. I had to do little or no suspension of disbelief whilst reading Children of Time which is exactly how I like my science fiction and it’s particularly surprising coming from an author all of whose prior output has been fantasy.
The writing is fluid, the characters, both human and alien, interesting and well filled out and, whilst the final denouement was moderately inevitable, the route to it was filled with twists and turns that definitely weren’t predictable. I am only a little surprised (and disappointed) that despite leaving everything open for a sequel there appears to be no intent to produce one. He has, however, written some further SF since Children of Time so I will certainly be taking a look at that.
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