Children of Time is, first and foremost, a highly enjoyable read. It deals with the concept of uplift, something fans of science fiction will recognise, but it also deals with the fractious, destructive and violent tendencies of our own species.
The uplift story line (uplift being a process whereby an animal is lifted to consciousness through artificial means) follows the development of various types of invertebrates, specifically through the lens of the dominant species: the jumping spider, Portia. Each set of chapters that follows the uplift story thread leaps several generations, and through the course of the book, and over hundreds if not thousands of generations, the development of this species from humble beginnings to full civilisation is lovingly detailed, cleverly wrought and thoroughly fascinating. Explaining it here, or to a friend, feels somewhat absurd, so unlikely and alien that it sits in-congruent with the idea that it might make for a fascinating story; it is not. This evolving tale is engrossing, well detailed and believably carried through. In fact, as a reader I was far more well-disposed toward the spiders than I was toward our own species!
The development of technology, domestication, and civilisation in this arachnid species is brilliantly etched out. Over deep time we chart the rise and development of a nascent consciousness to a full blown civilisation, it is both identifiable and alien, familiar and strange, but most of all it is absolutely engaging.
|Photo credit: Opo Terser/Wikipedia (CC BY 2.0)|
Those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it; this is the refrain that sings through the human portion of the story. Tchaikovsky takes on the human condition, juxtaposed against the rise of the Portia civilisation we see a broken shadow of humanity, the last remnants of our species searching for a world to assert themselves on.
This is a dual story, we have the uplift component and the human component; two threads enmeshed that parallel and commentate on one another. We see the spiders reaching toward something we, as readers, would recognise as civilisation, and we see contrasted against them, our own, and the comparisons are a stark analysis of the human condition. Fractious, violent, factional, brilliant, creative, hungry problem solvers we are, and the struggles faced by the ark ship Gilgamesh (the same hero who sought immortality) and its crew paint an, at times, bleak picture of our potentials.
The inevitable conflict between the two species, as the story threads collide back together, is chilling, and I found myself, strangely, wishing the cold vacuum of space would extinguish the guttering candle of humanity. But the ending itself is better still.
I found Children of Time to be a fascinating story, for all the depth lovingly sown into Portia and her species, for all the base struggles that beset our own, Children of Time remains a rollicking good story. Through it we chart the rise of civilisation, great battles and discoveries, a desperate fight for survival carried through by sheer will and tenacity against all odds. I thoroughly enjoyed it...