Children of Time
January 9, 2021 9:24 PM - by Tchaikovsky, Adrian - Subscribe

Humanity has started to spread among the stars, terraforming worlds and beginning uplift experiments. But their inner demons get the best of them and the crowning achievement of Doctor Avrana Kern is sabotaged. What will emerge from the wreckage and how will she keep tabs on her work?

This novel by Adrian Tchaikovsky has two parallel plotlines that intersect: the first is the story of a growing spider civilization, who start off as predators but are helped along by a nanovirus.

The second vector is an ark ship, escaping with a crew responsible for their cargo: some of the last humans who are frozen in cryostasis, following the archaeological trail of the Old Empire. Next stop: a terraformed world where an experiment may have been taking place.

Content warning: If you do not like spiders, this is NOT the book for you. Like at all.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit (14 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I did not care about the humans very much, but by gum I was utterly riveted by the adventures of those plucky spiders!

Overall, a very good book.
posted by kyrademon at 8:31 AM on January 10, 2021 [2 favorites]

The bit where the spiders first attempt spaceflight is the best moment of triumph and sacrifice I can remember reading in a long time. That and the planet entirely made of mold really stick out in my mind.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 10:19 AM on January 10, 2021 [2 favorites]

This is an excellent piece of science fiction and i think the sequel may be even better, so would recommend checking it out if you haven't.

I agree that the spiders story is better, i love the through line of the shared characters names even as society changes. I really liked the feminist plot line; while the gender reversal could have been awkward it actually managed to be an excellent criticism of our existing patriarchy.

I think the humans story does work rather well on a reread, initially i found the lead a bit unsympathetic but with a reread i found myself liking him more
posted by Cannon Fodder at 11:29 AM on January 11, 2021

Man, this book. I am an arachnologist who reads/writes science fiction and this book should be right up my alley, but I'm strangely reluctant to let these worlds mix.
posted by dhruva at 6:35 AM on January 12, 2021

There are a lot of spider and ant interactions, too!

SimAnt did not prepare me for this.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 7:54 PM on January 12, 2021

I'm glad the general sentiment is the spider story is better than the human story, which is a shame because I think the human story was built on a solid foundation. I think having the human perspective told from a dude who barely mattered and spent most of his time getting up to speed on what happened while he was asleep didn't help.

The spiders turning ants from an existential threat to the basis of their technology was pretty cool. Everything about the spiders' alien biotech was well-executed. It seems like this was an inevitable outcome of the virus, since the designers (Kern?) totally failed to ensure invertebrates were immune. Even if the monkeys had landed they would have been plagued by rapidly evolving insects within a few hundred years. The old human civilization being so imperialist that their terraforming involved inventing indigenous civilizations to subjugate was a nice touch.

I found it amusing that everyone acted like being left behind on a frozen jovian moon was a nightmarish life sentence, when the only alternative was staying aboard the cramped ark ship. This was only made worse when later on a whole tribe of people are happy to live their entire lives aboard the ship outside of suspended animation. Why did the moon colony fail, when the ark ship continued on just fine?

"Could it be that the creatures that built this giant orbital web around their planet are intelligent? No way." "Why aren't my monkeys monkey enough?" A lot of the suspense required people to fail to make important logical leaps, which also didn't help the human side of the story. I did find it grimly amusing that the entire human side of things ended up being one more existential problem for the Spiders to overcome.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 5:47 AM on January 13, 2021 [3 favorites]

I did not care about the humans very much, but by gum I was utterly riveted by the adventures of those plucky spiders!

I was exactly the opposite! I appreciated the spider relationships stories but I got really hung up on what this or that thing was they were supposedly inventing and it felt a little facile to me like "How would spiders invent all the things humans invented, or spider versions of those things, if they were sentient?" I enjoyed learning about their culture and problem solving but very much did not enjoy the constant invention stream aspect of it.
posted by jessamyn at 8:06 PM on January 13, 2021

Children of Ruin post is up if you want to discuss the next adventures of our favorite spider protagonists.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 8:11 PM on January 16, 2021 [1 favorite]

This was such a great book!

I love peacock spiders anyway so I was rooting for them from the start, and then the ants were so scary I was on the edge of my seat during the ant wars section. Lots of playful SF ideas, like pondering gender equality in a species that *literally* evolved to eat their mates.

Kern was so vile I really wanted her to get her comeuppance--maybe go bonkers at the idea that humane but eight-legged persons are now in charge. That she instead becomes elder statesman is more in keeping with theme of the book but, alas, I'm immature and petty.

Minority opinion: The end was a bit of a cop-out. The biotech being able to rewire human brains is no less realistic than anything else, but it felt dramatically cheap coming in not as a premise to get the plot moving, but as a resolution to end it.
posted by mark k at 8:38 PM on January 16, 2021

Thanks fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit! I caught your post for 'Children of Ruin' and read a few reviews of both but not immediately grabbed.

How 'hard' scifi is the series, and is it "cutesy" or more serious?

I know the author is an etymologist, but.. domain knowledge sometimes come with blinders (qv. engineer's disease).
posted by porpoise at 6:11 PM on January 17, 2021

I'm halfway through this book right now, and I would not call it cutesy in any way. The human characters range from pathologically narcissistic to unlikeable; the spiders are sufficiently alien that I am not particularly attached to them (which is fine because they keep dying off). It's interesting, though.
posted by suelac at 9:24 PM on January 17, 2021 [1 favorite]

It is zero percent cutesy.

I'd call it firmly in the hard SF tradition, but since everyone uses that a bit differently and I'm not sure what is important to you: There is one scientific conceit (regarding why you might end up with intelligent spiders) that is explained at a pretty high-level. Most other things are plausible and/or logical outgrowths of the initial conceit. But there's not a lot of detailed discussion of Spider Biology Facts or Cool Things About Biochemistry or anything like that to try and convince you this is realistic because the author is Really Smart.
posted by mark k at 10:08 PM on January 17, 2021 [1 favorite]

Ah, thanks! From the tenor of the talk about spider-looking (convergent evolution) sentients I flashed hard on Vernor Vinge's 'Deepness in the Sky' mid-century Hollywood/ Princeton arachnoids and 'The Children of the Sky' Lion King sonic lupoids. Great stories, but damaged by cutesy.

mark k - conceits/ posits are generally AOK by me. Even extreme ones so long as its consistent. Random technobabble and "sufficiently advanced = magic" fantasy I have less patience for; but there's a time and place for those.
posted by porpoise at 8:58 PM on January 18, 2021

Trying to explain to my partner why I found the Spider Space Program chapter so profoundly affecting made me sound like an absolute crazy person I tell you what.
posted by Phobos the Space Potato at 11:42 AM on May 10, 2023 [1 favorite]

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