Review of Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky


Tchaikovsky’s fascinating insectile epic fantasy series Shadows of the Apt has made him a major name in Fantasy circles – and rightly so. See my review of Empire in Black and Gold here. So when I encountered a book with his name on the cover featuring a spacescape, it was a no-brainer that I’d scoop it off the shelves. Would I enjoy it?

childrenoftimeThe last remnants of the human race left a dying Earth, desperate to find a new home among the stars. Following in the footsteps of their ancestors, they discover the greatest treasure of the past age – a world terraformed and prepared for human life. But guarding it is its creator, Dr Avrana Kern with a lethal array of weaponry, determined to fight off these refugees. For she has prepared this pristine world seeded with a very special nanovirus for a number of monkey species to be uplifted into what human beings should have turned into – instead of the battling, acquisitive creatures who destroyed Earth…

That’s the tweaked blurb – unusually because I felt the book jacket version was rather a vanilla description of the really intriguing conflict Tchaikovsky posits in this generational ship odyssey. For Kern’s plans go very awry and the species that actually becomes uplifted isn’t Kern’s monkeys, at all…

As coincidence would have it, I’ve only recently read another space opera adventure featuring a generational ship and humans whose lives span an extended time. In Tchaikovsky’s version, however, the method used to elongate the crew’s lives sufficiently is for them to go into deep storage, along with the colonists stacked in the cargo holds, to be roused when necessary to deal with various emergencies. So when the captain encounters the problem of Kern’s formidable defences, he finds himself staying awake far longer than he intended.

There is such a welter of unintended consequences and accidental outcomes in this tale, that it would have only taken a slightly different approach and a major tweak to the writing to turn this into a Douglas Adams-type farce. The storyline and Tchaikovsky’s detailed, knowledgeable account of how the species acquired the necessary intelligence to form a planet-wide society had me utterly engrossed.

Because there was a dealbreaker embedded in this book. There are tracts of ‘tell’ throughout, where Tchaikovsky resorts to omniscient pov to relay chunks of the story. Could he have done it differently? Probably – and if the story had been less engrossing, less exciting and more predictable I may well have abandoned it. But the initial premise held me and the ingenious, witty plotting had me captivated such that I was more than willing to give him a free pass on his mode of delivery.

He also made me care about both the wretched humans trapped aboard a ship that is slowly falling apart under them and the interesting beings down on the planet struggling to adapt to an evolutionary tweak not intended for them. Did he bring the story to a suitably satisfying conclusion? Oh yes, he certainly did. I don’t know if this is a precursor to a series of books set on Kern’s World. But if it is, I’m going to snapping them up as they become available. Tchaikovsky has taken an established genre by the scruff of its neck and turned it around in coolly interesting ways in much the same way The Shadow of the Apt series flipped around epic Fantasy.

And the bonus? He is genuinely one of the nicest blokes it has been my pleasure to encounter at various cons…

15 responses »

  1. Having never read any of his books before this year, within the space of two novels I’ve turned into a committed fan 🙂 And he is a lovely chap too!

    • Isn’t he? While I enjoyed The Shadows of the Apt, this science fiction offering is by far my favourite book. Have you read this one? I’ve FINALLY uploaded my review of ‘The Art of Forgetting’ onto Amazon, btw…

      • I was blown away by Guns of the Dawn, and Children of time was very nearly as good. I hear he’s signed to Tor for a new Sword and Sorcery novel too 🙂 Annie told me he never stops writing, she says it’s like breathing to him…
        And thank you for the Amazon review – I got a sale off the back of it too, so double yay!

      • We’ve just bought ‘Guns of the Dawn’ as the library doesn’t stock it. I’m so glad the review helped. It’s a bit of a hobby so I’m not as organised as I should be about getting them as widely circulated as I should. What brought me up short was when I was turned down by several publishers on Netgalley😒

  2. I chanced upon your blog through anoth blog and you reblogged the same post but Adrian’s books sound like a worthwhile read so will put the on my TBRL thank you 🙂

    • I’m delighted that you found it helpful, Caz – and if and when you do read any of Adrian’s books, do please consider returning and letting me know how you got on. I’d love to know what you think about them:)

  3. Hmmm… How does his sci-fi compare to the fantasy? It looked intriguing, but then you write: “Tchaikovsky has taken an established genre by the scruff of its neck and turned it around in coolly interesting ways in much the same way The Shadow of the Apt series flipped around epic Fantasy.”, and since I dropeed the Shadow of the Apt after the second book, I’m both curious about the sci-fi (it sounds REALLY interesting) and mistrustful.

    • Bear in mind that this seems to be a stand-alone book, anyway. I’d give it a go – I personally preferred it to the Shadows of the Apt, but then science fiction is my favourite genre, anyway. I managed to get it from the library, so you may be able to track it down there:)

      • I don’t mind stand-alones, they actually don’t expect commitment. If you preferred this one from the Shadows… I will add it to my reading list. 🙂

      • Yes, I preferred this to the Shadows of the Apt, as it’s a really original, interesting read:) Do let me kow how you get on with it if you do add it to your reading list:).

      • I will, though the chance of me getting to it this year are quite slim. I just end up putting interesting titles on the “want to read” list on Goodreads to remember during the next “I want to buy a book phase”.

      • Oh, I know just how you feel! I have an INSANELY long wish list – as well as PILES of books by my bed waiting to be read…

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