Children of Time

August 1, 2017 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

timeChildren of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky

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There are the classic epic science fiction novels — DuneStranger in a Strange Land, and Foundation among them — that everyone should read. They’re powerful works of fiction that force the reader to rethink everything they’ve known before so they walk away with a new perspective on the world and about themselves. Children of Time is another book to add to that list.

The story is twofold. It tells the story of humans, having abandoned Earth after destroying it and traveling through space to find a new world they can call home. It also tells the story of a species on a terraformed planet, uplifted with the help of humans, and how their civilization builds as they gain sentience. The two stories are intertwined and told in parallel, and it’s fascinating to read about the rise of one species while another speeds headlong into its own destruction.

Children of Time spans eons, but never feels tired. As a result, it’s a slow-burn of a story, but it never feels slow. The development of the two timelines is so compelling and realistic that it’s hard not to stay engaged. I found myself wanting to know more about the uplift species than the human drama, mostly because the human drama was something I’ve seen before. Still, the story involving the humans was engaging, too, thanks to Tchaikovsky capturing the characters so well.

Because the story spans such a long time, it would have been easy to get lost among generations and names, but Tchaikovsky overcomes this in two ways. For the human characters, he employs suspended animation so we see the same characters over centuries and millennia. For the uplift species, he creates archetypes of characters that he reuses from one generation to the next that he brings into the story, which works because the species has a genetic memory. The way Tchaikovsky writes his story, it’s suggested that the species don’t have names; instead, when he introduces a new archetype, he instead writes, “call her Viola”, or whatever name he chooses for that archetype.  It’s a brilliant device, and it helps to keep us connected to a species that, in our own minds, are still animals. Instead, we cheer with their victories and feel sorrow for their loss.

Tchaikovsky’s dialogue feels natural, and his characterization skills are strong. He does rely on lots of telling, but the book is a hard science fiction novel, and that’s to be expected for delivering so much technical information. That being said, the author has good turns of phrase, and he has moments where he shows us human nature in all its good and ill. The novel is a strong commentary on humanity and its endeavors, and where it can go. The ending feels a little forced in some ways, but it’s mostly in the science, not in the plot or the characters. Tchaikovsky doesn’t cheat on his story, and there’s so much good in this novel, I can overlook some clumsily-applied science.

Children of Time is moving, compelling, and thought-provoking. The story is as much commentary as it is fiction, and it shows us the best and worst in ourselves. In short, it’s everything a good science fiction novel should be. Fans of epic, generations-spanning science fiction should read this, as should anyone who enjoys a strong, well-told story.

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