Children of Time

Posted: July 12, 2016 in Book reviews

By Adrian Tchaikovsky


In the near future humanity has spread to the stars. Human ships stride between solar systems and mankind has even begun to terraform new worlds to colonise. A scientist, Avrana Kern, has chosen one of these terraformed worlds as the location for a bold experiment. She plans to seed the lush green planet with monkeys who will, upon landing, be infected with a nanovirus that will accelerate their development towards becoming a brand new sentient life form.

Unfortunately even as humanity has made near miraculous technological breakthroughs, the same old political and religious arguments exist, and one fanatic, horrified at what Kern has planned, sabotages the experiment. The orbital station is destroyed, and though she launches the monkeys and the nanovirus, the monkeys are wiped out. The nanovirus however makes it to the planet where it infects a creature it was never planned to work upon, beginning a chain reaction that will see a very different sentient life form evolve to what had been planned…

The same conflict that destroyed Kern’s orbital station practically wipes out humanity. After a thousand years mankind has rebuilt itself on Earth, but the home world is a toxic dump and the only hope is to evacuate. Ark ships are cobbled together from the remnants of technology from the former Earth Empire and they set out towards various targets. One such ship, the Gilgamesh, begins a long journey towards the site of Kern’s experiment, but the lush green world is home to a burgeoning, and distinctly non-human civilisation. The scene is set for a conflict between two species over who gets to inherit this green planet.


The first thing to say is that I’m going out of my way not to specify which particular kind of animal gets the nanovirus upgrade. Realistically it’s not a huge spoiler, and you find out relatively quickly, so it wouldn’t ruin the book for you but…I didn’t know in advance, and it properly caught me by surprise so if you can avoid finding out do so.

The second thing to get clear right at the beginning of the review is that this is one of the best books I’ve read in a long time. I absolutely loved it.

The epic story features a dual narrative that follows the evolution of the new race on the green planet, whilst also tracking the seemingly never ending quest of the Gilgamesh in finding a new home. Whilst I enjoyed both strands of the novel, its testament to Tchaikovsky’s prose and world building that I actually think I preferred the bits that took place planetside. The new race that evolves is utterly alien in concept, yet Tchaikovsky manages to make them empathetic whilst keeping any anthropomorphising of them to a minimum. Yes the repetitive use of humanoid names for various members of the species across the millennia might be a narrative cheat, but it is a very good one, and though we know of them as Portia, or Fabian or Bianca we never lose sight of the fact that they are not human and each iteration of Portia et al is different from the last. It stops the book getting confusing and gives us a thread through which to follow their development.

By contrast the majority of human characters aboard Gilgamesh remain the same due to the use of cryogenic freezing. Some are perhaps less well developed, though the main characters Tchaikovsky focuses upon- Classicist Holston Mason and engineer Isa Lain— are well realised and have a wonderfully temporally disjointed romance. Tchaikovsky never lets us forget that this is a group of humans desperate to survive, standing on the shoulders of a previous human civilisation to do it, and however much hope there is to be found in their continued survival, there is a certain melancholia as well, as if it might have been better for them to just lie down and give in to entropy, leaving the universe free for others to rule.

This is a book brimming with  ideas as Tchaikovsky deftly shows us the biological and societal creation of a civilisation from the ground up, focusing on pivotal moments in the new race’s development that often mirror humanity’s, yet always play out in very different ways; religion, gender equality, renaissance, even a nascent space program! Even when getting across complex ideas Tchaikovsky’s prose is accessible and engaging, and I lost count of how many times I mentally said “Wow!” as I read some intriguing twist or turn in the narrative.

It really is an amazing ride, with an ending that I loved and which made perfect narrative sense, and I heartily recommend it. This is the first book of Tchaikovsky’s that I’ve read, it won’t be the last.

  1. I read one of his others recently, and found it very interesting. This one sounds good – I should recommend it to Pete as he might like it.

  2. […] you read my review of Children of Time you’ll see I absolutely loved it (still the best book I’ve read in years) but this left me with […]

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