Children of Time (Audible version) by Adrian Tchaikovsky
I know I’m coming off the back of Vonnegut and Atwood, but this novel is poor. Credit to anyone who finishes and publishes a novel, it’s a huge undertaking, and something I haven’t achieved, but Children of Time felt naïve in concept, and charmless in execution. In fact, I wondered if I’d picked up a children’s book, until the effin’ and jeffin’ started…
The book is structured in alternating chapters.
One set follows the bedraggled remains of the human race, huddled in a cryonic space-ark, and searching for a planet they can colonise, possibly one terraformed by the ‘Old Empire’. This part can best be described as unenthralling, zero-dimensional characters occasionally waking up from their dreamless sleep seemingly only to exchange tragically immature dialogue, and make stupid decisions (Trump folk, perhaps?).
The other set follows events on the Kernsworld, a planet that was to be a trial in non-human evolution run by an ‘Old Empire’ mad scientist (groan). Essentially, she lets loose a Genesis Device, but instead of her monkeys getting an uplift, it’s creepy crawlies that become masters of the planet. This can be best described as Dorling Kindersley’s Book of What If Creepy Crawlies Evolved? for under 10s.
The writing style throughout is vague (at no time did ‘pictures’ appear in my mind), and distant (in the way a 12-year-old might write up a science experiment after having just been shown how to write in third person). There are lots of silly things like one person thinking something, and another thinking how it’s a good job that the first person didn’t say it (and there’s no telepathy in play here). Most of the time we see the characters interact, and then we get an omniscient summary telling what we just saw. Other problems include faux feminism, naive philosophy, and predictability.
Also, if you’re going to try to explain the science in a science fiction book: 1) DON’T!; 2) At least have some rigour. I’m not even sure Tchaikovsky knows the difference between monkeys and apes (and to which of those humans are more closely related).
2/5 for ambition (the last time I gave a score that low was Bob Shaw’s dire Orbitsville - 1/5 is reserved for Dan Brown and Stephenie Meyer). Of course, I should mention here, to offset my diatribe, Children of Time won the hotly contested Arthur C. Clarke Award 2016, and has an incredibly high average score of 4.5 on Amazon.co.uk.
Note: I’m 30 minutes into Claire North’s Touch, and I feel like I’m back with the professionals.