Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
Adrian Tchaikovsky has for a long time been a prominent figure in the realm of science-fiction literature, and for many the pinnacle of his work, so far at least, can be found in Children of Time, winner of the 2016 Arthur C. Clarke Award. It tells the story of humanity’s last remnants as they leave a dying Earth in search of a new home. The new planet they find is perfect at first sight, but hope quickly turns to despair as the lethal dangers of the unknown world begin rising to the surface.
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Adrian Tchaikovsky Visits the End Times
To us, the concept of the Earth wilting away and dying is something future generations millions of years down the line will have to worry about, certainly not a state of affairs which concerns us. While we do seem to be generally trying to collectively move towards a place where we preserve our planet, we are still quite actively destroying it, no doubt accelerating whatever natural processes leading us to oblivion. It might be no problem for us, but it certainly is one for the last remnants of the human civilization in Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky, winner of the 2016 Arthur C. Clarke Award.
The story opens by taking us to the end of Earth as we know it, its final light dying away as humanity’s last survivors head out into the stars, desperate to find a new home and preserve the species, as unlikely a goal it might seem. Lo and behold, their journey into the stars nets them a discovery they could have only hoped for in their dreams: a planet already terraformed, perfectly prepared to host human life. At first glance, it seems the journey to save humanity has been successfully concluded… however, they are about to realize they have landed in nothing short of a terrifying nightmare.
The planet had been abandoned long ago, and its rulers beforehand had performed unspeakable and disastrous actions which transformed the pristine land into a realm of endless dangers. More precisely, another civilization has already claimed this ruined planet, and they aren’t about to share it with humanity.
On the other side of the hill, humans have nowhere else left to go and prepare to lay their claim as the true heirs of this new Earth. On a collision course with each other, both civilizations see themselves and their will to survive tested profoundly unlike ever before.
Two Contrasting Narratives
The journey we are embarking on in Children of Time is grandiose in every sense of the word, spanning thousands of years and following two civilizations which develop in extremely different ways while in the same extra-solar planetary system. On one hand, we are privy to the development of a civilization as it virtually sprouts out from the Earth, growing and developing over countless cycles, changing and adapting to the challenges thrown at it by the universe.
When it comes to this narrative, I was extremely impressed with Tchaikovsky‘s ability to profoundly describe the sociological and anthropological aspects of a developing species, almost feeling like an extremely well-written history book at some points. Perhaps even more impressively, the author doesn’t ever give you the opportunity to be bored even as you are reading through the slowest moments. With every passage he adds something important to the story and the portrayal of this species, as if carefully sculpting a marble statue which takes on new and interesting shapes with every strike of the chisel.
That is the problem with ignorance. You can never truly know the extent of what you are ignorant about.― Adrian Tchaikovsky, Children of Time
The second narrative we are presented with is one of a developed society, slowly crumbling inwards and turning barbaric in many regards… I’m certain you can guess which one we’re talking about here. Perhaps even more than in the other narrative, the author’s in-depth knowledge of sociology makes itself known as he presents us with very clear and detailed explanations justifying the mindsets and the decisions people are making. I personally enjoy reading about hypothetical studies in which societies crumble inwards, and in my opinion this was one of the more believable, fully-realized and thought-provoking ones in recent memory.
Questions Without Answers
With a narrative which spans thousands of years, we not only get to make the acquaintance of innumerable interesting characters, but also their diverse thoughts and perspectives on what they might be living through. Rest assured, there is no shortage of philosophical debates and quandaries for you to possibly spend the remainder of your life debating over, largely revolving around the everlasting battle between survival and morality.
While the author certainly knows there aren’t exact and definitive answers to the many of the topics he explores in Children of Time, he still goes out there and sometimes makes a statement about his personal beliefs.
For instance, I think it is safe to say Tchaikovsky doesn’t have much faith in humanity as a whole, and believes we are fated to bring senseless violence and chaos wherever we travel to, largely due to our conflicting natures and aggressive ambitions. Speaking on this note, I ought to mention this book is a bit of a heavy and depressing read at times, acting as a good argument of just how terrible humanity can be and a reminder we belong to it, whether we like it or not.
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As our characters search for answers to questions without any across millennia, the story progresses and develops very organically in my opinion, taking its time to ensure all pieces are in place and explained before taking any further steps. I was actually quite impressed to witness how the author integrated plot development seamlessly into both narratives, advancing the events while still largely just studying both societies.
The Final Verdict
Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky is one of the most profound and thought-provoking science-fiction books I have ever had the pleasure of reading. An eye-opening study of humanity contrasted with another civilization, I believe it is the sort of book one might have to read multiple times to appreciate it in its entirety.
If you enjoy slower-paced science-fiction stories focused on philosophy, anthropology and sociology, the kind of stories which stay with you and make you think for long after you’ve finished them, then I believe you should definitely give this book the chance it clearly deserves.
God is better disposed towards those who feign the right humility.― Adrian Tchaikovsky, Children of Time
Adrian Tchaikovsky is a British writer of fantasy and science-fiction novels whose novel Children of Time won the 30th Arthur C. Clarke Award in 2016.
His best-known works include the Shadows of the Apt and After the War series, as well as the standalone novels Guns of the Dawn and Dogs of War. In 2017 he also had the distinction of receiving the British Fantasy Award – Best Fantasy Novel for The Tiger and the Wolf.