Tchaikovsky has conducted a fascinating thought experiment in ‘Children of Time’ – what if spiders evolved rapidly and became the dominant species on a world bereft of humans? This is the first in a trilogy of books that takes place in the distant future. Humanity is on the brink of destroying our once hospitable planet, and so have reached out to the stars to terraform new worlds in case things continue to go south here at home. Never content to leave well enough alone, humanity decides to take the terraforming expedition one step further and conduct a controlled scientific experiment on a new world. A virus that causes rapid evolution is engineered and let loose, along with a cargo-load full of apes. However, just as the experiment is set to begin, all hell breaks loose back on earth and the mission is compromised. The ape payload burns up on entry to the virgin lush green planet… but the virus survives.
What follows is a regular check-in on the dominant species that best adapts to the virus and rises to prominence on this new world – the arachnids. We, the reader, are treated to an ongoing case study of the spider’s evolutionary progress covering thousands of years. There are epic ant colony battles, scientific discoveries, religion, gender divides, inequality… it is a great examination of how societies can develop (in this case, it’s a matriarchy!).
Meanwhile, the last arc of humanity flees across space desperately seeking a new home. Eventually, the two races must collide but it takes a long…. loooonnngggg….. time for that to happen. Compared to the plight of the spiders, I found the story of the last surviving handful of humans to be a bit… tedious. It’s clear that Tchaikovsky had to come up with enough time for the spiders to fully evolve before they met with humanity, and had to tell humanity’s story so the reader is invested in their fate. A number of convenient plot devices are used to keep the two races apart until the right time for the story to progress. Interesting themes around class divide, artificial intelligence, and the burden of leadership are examined when the story swaps over to focus on the humans. Yet, try as I might, I just didn’t care. I wanted more space spiders, damnit!
Overall, I can only give this novel 3 mystical humming crystals out of 5, because compared to giant evolved feminist spiders, petty humans just ain’t that interesting.