Tag Archives: generational ship

Review of Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky

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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…
10/10

Review of Marrow by Robert Reed

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I acquired Marrow longer ago than I care to even think about, on account of the very cool cover as I’m a sucker for spacescapes. Would I enjoy it?

The ship is home to a thousand alien races and a near-immortal crew who have no knowledge of its origins or purpose. At its core lies a secret as ancient as the universe. It is about to be unleashed.

marrowThis is definitely in the realm of epic science fiction – with the emphasis on vastness. The ship Humankind has appropriated is absolutely immense. The population this ship supports is in the millions and the people running this ship are of the transhuman variety, in that they are all but immortal with lifespans stretching into the hundreds and thousands of years. To be able to sustain a storyline with plenty of twists and turns, and yet continue to be able to denote the sheer weirdness of the backdrop that is also key to said story takes serious writing skill. It’s one reason why science fiction is regarded with such snootiness in certain quarters – it is easy to write badly and difficult to write well.

So is Reed up to the task? Oh for sure. The only slightly dodgy pov was the initial prologue when the ship is talking and that doesn’t last long. Other than that, the mix of multiple and semi omniscient viewpoint works well. I was gripped by the story and cared sufficiently about the characters, despite none of them being all that likeable – they are too alien and inhuman. But that didn’t stop me becoming completely engrossed in the twists and turns over a huge span of time.

Reed manages to make the characters care about enough of the aspects of humanity that drive us, so that I could empathise with their motivations and yet they were indisputably ‘other’. It’s a far harder trick to pull off than Reed makes it look, and was certainly helped by the relatively small cast of characters that features in this generational ship adventure.

The worldbuilding was really well done. Reed has an amazing imagination and has let it off the leash when it comes to his lethal world, Marrow. But while it certainly features and shapes the story, Reed hasn’t allowed it to become centre stage. So while there are passages of detailed description, they tend to be added when necessary to the narrative progression, so we don’t have pages and pages of explanation that hamper the pace and diffuse the tension.

All in all, this is a really intriguing, entertaining read and while I note that it isn’t available on Kindle, if you do happen to encounter a copy and you are a hard science fiction fan, then scoop it up. You’re in for a treat.
9/10