Sci-Fi | Book Review: Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Children of Time

Every so often, along comes a book that tells you one thing but does quite something else. Children of Time takes that to the next level and constantly blows your mind with possibilities. If you like a book with big bold ideas of the future, you’ve found it. I can’t believe I put off reading this book for years.

“At last the words fought themselves free, ‘Promise me–‘
‘Nothing,’ she snapped instantly. ‘No promises. The universe promises us nothing; I extend the same to you.”
Adrian Tchaikovsky

It’s going to be difficult reviewing this book without giving away the plot or details about the species on the planet but I will try. The story goes that humans have expanded out into space on their slower-than-light ships and colonized several systems. Dr Avrana Kern is in charge of overseeing the terraforming of planets for future human colonisation. She is also conducting a massive experiment of uplifting monkeys on a terraformed world to prepare it for humans.

With the help of a virus that speeds up evolution, Avrana Kern wants her monkeys to become intelligent and serve the humans as needed. Everything, of course, is not happy and peaceful in this Empire of Man. A faction opposes this uplifting of lower species and with some considerable effort manages to push humanity to war. A sabotuer has infiltrated Avrana Kern’s crew and causes the destruction of her ship and the death of all her crew with Avrana Kern barely escaping in her shuttle and stranded centuries away from any other humans. Eventually, the surviving humans seem to have gotten their act together to set out on colony ships and one of those ships is headed to Avrana Kern’s planet.

Mankind brooks no competitors, She has explained to them – not even its own reflection.Adrian Tchaikovsky

All this happens in the first chapter; talk about exciting! The book sets a good backdrop of a story offering you just enough information to keep you hooked. While Kern sleeps in her cryo pod, waiting for rescue, the planet below her has been colonised by something other than her monkeys.

The alien species on the planet is very well written. The complex social structures, interactions and their societal development is brilliant. I genuinely felt more for these aliens rather the surviving humans who can’t think past next week and keep making the same short-sighted destructive decisions that led them to where they are. There are so many parallels to our own current society. The author has highlighted human social structures are all based on selfish decisions and I can’t help but keep comparing it to the real world.

The aliens are as entertaining as they are alien. Portia and her ilk are my favorite characters. Watching their society develop over several centuries was a wonder to read. I applaud the author for showing me a society that does not base its technology around metals and fire. A species that lives with nature rather than trying to destroy it and create its own structures. In so many ways, the aliens are complete opposites of humans. This is not to say that their society has its own flaws, many of which are deeply rooted in their own biology. Fabian and Biance are noteworthy mentions here as rebels against a society they feel is unjust.

The act of courtship is consummated as a public ritual, where the hopeful males – in their moment of prominence – perform in front of a peer group, or even the whole city, before the female chooses her partner and accepts his package of sperm. She may then kill and eat him, which is thought to be a great honour for the victim, although even Portia suspects that the males do not quite see it that way.Adrian Tchaikovsky

On the human side, Holston was my favorite. As a historian and one of the oldest humans alive on the human colony ship, Gilgamesh, he managed to get into the thick of things as the plot evolves. His chapters are a joy to read. He is a character deep in turmoil, unclear of his role and always doing the right thing. Holsten’s involvement in the ships affairs along with Lain and Guyen over nearly five centuries is very well written. As Holsten keeps going back to his cryo pod, he watches the people around him age and change. The grief and loss he feels, well I felt it too. The book really takes you there, on the ship, as humanity’s hopes and dreams are about to come crashing down.

There’s a lot more to be said about Avrana Kern, the humans and the aliens but I really don’t want to spoil anything here. This book is a masterpiece and I’d rather have you, my readers, enjoy it like I did; without any foreknowledge.

It’s been a while since I have given a book 10 out of 10 and this book definitely deserves it.

Children of Time