Can you feel it? The slow, inexorable increase in anxiety among homo sapiens? We live in tense times, and I believe I speak objectively, though this observation is certainly a subjective perception, too. Worldwide fear of terrorism, climate change, economic collapse, technological breakthroughs without brakes. Maybe the only thing we are not afraid of is an external predator, an unfriendly visit from a superior species, but why should we fear that when we are far more likely to create one right here at home?
When I began reading Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky (on the shortlist for the Arthur C. Clarke Award for best science fiction novel published in 2015) I was immediately impressed at how well the novel resonated with the gloomy thoughts noted above. But, even if you don’t share in my personal sense of the zeitgeist, you should give this book a read and enjoy the literary risks the novel takes and survives.
The story begins with the actions of scientist Avrana Kern, who has little regard for human beings and the damage they have wreaked upon the earth and each other. Kern is faced with the rebellion of a key scientist on her team who does not agree that Kern or anyone should be altering the evolution of species with the sophisticated technology at their disposal. To ensure that her plan to seed intelligent life on a habitable (“terraformed”) planet goes forward, Kern blithely destroys a space port, resulting in the deaths of many people and forcing her to enter cryogenic sleep in a pod that will orbit the planet until a computer rouses her to witness the outcomes of her experiment. What Kern doesn’t know is that her precious monkeys, the subjects she had selected to reboot civilization, don’t make it to the planet. The virus she’s engineered to enhance and speed up the monkey’s evolution does.
A reader might conclude that if Kern died during that unimaginably long and lonely sleep, it would have been good riddance to bad rubbish. With his cynical and arrogant god-scientist, who nevertheless risks all for her precious monkeys, Tchaikovsky clearly makes a point about the dangerous and awesome capacity of human beings loose in the universe. Still, there was something so cartoonish about this deluded scientist that I nearly missed the point and was worrying in the back of my reader’s head that the novel was sliding toward farce. Luckily the author managed to correct course before I threw the book down, and later, when I was more comfortable with where the story was going, I better appreciated his persistent black humor directed at the human characters and their mishaps. Continue reading