Children of Time takes bold literary risks and wins

bookCan 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

Enjoying the monsoon

Against all good judgement I am currently traveling in south and southeast Asia during monsoon. The rain is delightful, but I feel I am stuck in a bamboo steamer in between the rains. Family events and friends have kept my husband and I busy, hence the long break since the last post, but I have been reading all along the way.

Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky is great! I picked it up after I saw it among the Arthur C. Clarke Award nominees. Look for a longer review when I get home. The story covers millennia, and it passes two different storylines back and forth like a baton as events unfold. One of the stories revolves around humans traveling across unimaginable distances of space, which is made possible by deep sleep in freezers. Even though I would hate to miss the journey, it is an appealing idea after a nine-hour bus ride across Cambodia.

Update: I just realized a certain Peace Corps worker, a.k.a. my daughter, made off with my copy of Children of Time when she returned to her village in southern Cambodia so I will be ordering a new copy so I can write a decent review!

First contact, transformation and common sense: an African girl crosses the galaxy / Primer contacto, la transformación y el sentido común: una niña africana atravieza la galaxia

BintiSpanish translation below the English is by Daniela Toulemonde.

Author Nnedi Okorafor promises a straightforward account of an African woman’s adventure in space both with the title of her Nebula-nominated novella Binti and in the hauntingly beautiful cover design, illustrated by David Palumbo. Much more, however, is delivered. Okorafor’s prose and writing style makes this novella appear deceptively simple. It was only when I finished it that I realized the magic she had worked throughout. *Warning: spoilers ahead.

We join the main character, a young African girl of the Himba people, preparing to leave earth in secret and go to a prestigious university (a whole planet is dedicated to education) far across the galaxy. Despite passing the difficult entrance exam and gaining admission, Binti is worried. As a member of community on earth that is marginalized and discriminated against, she wonders if this opportunity will really open the doors to the education that she hopes for or will the university be just one more exploitive institution as her family has warned her?

Binti manages to board the ship filled with students departing for the university and, over the course of the journey, begins to make friends. Before reaching the university, however, the ship is attacked by sophisticated and deadly beings known as the Meduse. Everyone aboard is murdered except Binti and the pilot. Her goals shrink to one: survival.  Continue reading