Man, this hit me at just the right time, in just the right way. It was the perfect blend of escapism (events take place farrrr away and a verrry long time from now) and dealing with reality (humans gonna human even in the future and light years away).
I almost don’t want to tell you anything about this book because if you go in unspoiled you are in for some surprises, but part of why I wanted to pick the book up is that I heard about its wacky premise and wanted to see how he would pull it off.
The unspoiled version of this review: This book examines what it means to be alive from different ends of the evolutionary spectrum, from the beginnings of sentient life, all the way to the end of civilization. He does this by following two very different civilizations that eventually come into contact with each other, and he follows them over a long period of time. The contrasts between the two were just as ripe for meaning as the similarities. I was totally pulled in to this book from page one. It’s a pretty big book, but I read it so fast, because it’s the perfect combination of readable words and smart concepts, with characters you invest in.
Now, go read the book thou unspoilt creatures.
For those of you who want to little tease before you try it out, this takes place after humanity has ruined Earth, as we are so wont to do in fiction (and in real life), and we are aboard a ship as a scientist begins a very ambitious experiment. She has created a virus that will promote the evolution of sapience in monkeys that she has brought with her into space. She will drop the monkeys and the virus off on a new planet and using technology to preserve herself, will wait for that life to develop and contact her. But something goes wrong (Earth ending wrongness) and the monkeys don’t make it to the planet, but the virus does.
The scientist’s virus works, but not the way she planned. It works on spiders. Yeah, this book is about sentient spiders!! Look, I don’t care if you like spiders or not, you don’t have to see them, and anyway, the spiders make up most of the best characters in this book.
The book is split in two: 1) We follow the spider civilization as it evolves from one very intelligent spider hunting her prey in the jungle, to the development of speech, community, cities, technology. Since we are following many generations of spiders, they all share common names, which tricks our brains into having continuity with them, even though they are constantly being replaced by their descendants. But the spiders do not evolve in isolation. Their creator is interfering from on high, and the specter of human civilization is always there, even if the spiders can’t see it. And 2) One human ship has made it into space from Earth, heading for the rumor of this planet, which their records say is habitable.
So that’s where I leave it. I will just finish this review by saying this was one of the most creative books I’ve ever read. Just, literally, the author’s act of creation pulled me in here. It is a beautiful thought experiment turned into an exciting story filled with battles and adventure and weird science. I am very excited to read book two a little bit down the road. Judging by how many left turns this book took along the way, I have genuinely no idea where this story could be going.
CBR Bingo: Fresh Start