This is definitely another off the long White Whale list, as I think I’ve checked it out from the library a number of times before finally cracking it open this time around. Best “you’d like this if you liked” that I can give is likely Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir.
What an excellent, well thought out sci-fi novel—entirely standalone, if you want to, but with additional installments afterwards that expand on the themes here. The concept at the heart is directed evolution, and how it works when the definition of intelligence isn’t what we think of as intelligence. In a many-years-in-the-future universe, a prototypical ego driven doctor is trying to seed an Earth-like planet with a directed evolution nano virus (that, essentially, speeds up the natural process of evolution) and a barrel of monkeys, to see if it’s possible to create a new race of simian understudies to serve a future generation of humans looking to colonize the universe. The barrel of monkeys are lost, but the nano virus is not and finds a new host—a spider.
Flip forward a few hundred years, and humanity has managed to apocalypse itself into oblivion except for a single crew that have painstakingly re-created some semblance of technology from the remnants of what was our civilization. They’re on a collision course with the spider planet, the only habitable area reachable to them.
Back and forth we go, alternating chapters between the humans on the ark (woken up periodically from stasis) and generations of genetically engineered spiders who have been given an intelligence that is entirely humanocentric in nature. Tchaikovsky has done something frankly miraculous, giving us reasons to root for both sides of the conflict until close to the end (when, spoiler alert, subsets of humanity end up being predictably human aka a bit terrible). As with other stories, any sufficiently advanced technology is somewhat indistinguishable from magic—I can’t say that all the leaps of logic made by the spiders really make perfect sense—but if you take it as fact that intelligent life can take many forms, it’s really quite beautiful to see it in action. Perhaps arachnophobes need not apply?