“Children of Time” tells the tale of the end of the human race, the point at which we have stripped the Earth of the last of its resources and sought out a new home amongst the stars. The last dregs of humanity have been shuttled to their shiny new planet, the one prepared for them by their forebears, only to discover that it is not, uh, vacant. In fact, it is being overseen by the last of those very same forebears (Dr Avrana Kern, now nothing more than an artificial intelligence hosted in a satellite) and populated by her… “monkeys.” What follows is a deftly-woven story that grapples with such subjects as war, peace, love, grief, religion, the value of human life, megalomaniacal AIs and, oh yeah, giant super-evolved jumping spiders!
Initially, I really didn’t know what to make of this book. I found the action hard to follow and the characters hard to relate to. However, I am SO so glad I persevered, because it was such a compelling read once I got past the initial set-up (and when I first encountered “Portia” I knew I was sold!)
Okay, I’m going to start with the spiders because they were my absolute favourite part of this entire book.
The spiders are the inhabitants of the planet that the humans want to colonise. They are overseen by their creator, Dr Avrana Kern, who is the last of the old human empire that was responsible for trying to create other habitable planets by distributing monkeys infected with a virus that would allow them to evolve at an accelerated rate and thus allow them to effectively “set up” the new planet for human occupancy. Long story short, the monkeys never made it. Spiders are the new monkeys.
We follow them through their high-speed evolution, as they discover tools and society and culture and technology and religion. And, of course, war. Until, that is, they’re forced to come together to face their new human invaders.
During their many thousands of years aboard their space-faring vessel, the humans also undergo a certain evolution; a small number of “original” humans from Earth form the “Key Crew” who supervise the ship over the years, going in and out of stasis while the rest of humanity slumbers in the cargo hold. As time draws on, the ship deteriorates (among other things) and the cargo is forced awake to take a more active role on the ship. This begins a new age wherein there are generations upon generations of humans who are born on the ship (known as the Tribe) and for whom the ship itself is their only home.
As a reader, you get to see the progress of both of these species alongside one another, until their stories ultimately converge.
I absolutely adored following the spiders’ evolution. I felt as though the author used the spiders’ development as a lens through which to examine important social topics (such as equality and diversity) in an accessible manner. And of course I also enjoyed the spiders themselves as characters!
I didn’t like the humans much at all at first; I didn’t find them particularly likeable and didn’t feel a huge amount of sympathy for their plight – but then I think that was the author’s intention, perhaps? I found it fascinating watching the relationship between the Key Crew and the Tribe, how they start out considering each other as vastly different (the Key Crew consider the Tribe lesser and more base because they’ve never seen Earth, and the Tribe consider the Key Crew to be as gods – that is until they meet face to face and the Tribe find their deities don’t live up to the lore) and end up finding a mutual respect for each other.
By the end of the book, however, I was genuinely attached to all of the (remaining) characters. The book had a solid ending, one that I wasn’t really prepared for but I found genuinely uplifting. Without spoiling it, the twist was a really pleasant surprise. It’s one of those books that I already miss being immersed in.
I have skimmed over and missed out SO MUCH STUFF because I have too many words and can’t channel them through my fingers fast enough but in short, I loved this book. Having said that, my opinions are my own, and I can see why some people would absolutely disagree and probably take an entirely different stance. Some might say that this book presents a fairly cynical view of humanity, which I can understand, but my interpretation was one of hope and of humanity’s potential. But we will never be as good as the spiders.