You know, I was about to describe this book as an ‘epic work of science-fiction’, but thinking about it, I don’t think the term ‘epic’ really does it justice. Children of Time is breath-taking in scope and ambition, covering thousands of years and taking in the desperate flight of the last remnants of humanity to find a new home, and the birth and accelerated evolution of an entirely new species: from the mud, to the trees, and eventually to space travel.
Yes, it’s that big, that detailed, and yet it still manages to keep things moving at a cracking pace. The prose is sparsely poetic, managing to distill an awful lot of scientific detail into the story without overwhelming the reader (and I’m easily overwhelmed, and have a surprisingly short attention span when encyclopedias get in the way of a good novel).
As you can imagine there are a lot of characters in this book, or at least you may think you are, though many of them are the same people we’re seeing generation after generation; still, each one is given a personality and so it’s fairly easy to keep track of who’s who. The evolution of the new species was perhaps the high point for me; it was fascinating to watch their culture develop as they grow and shake off ancient doctrine in their bid to save their future and strive for something bigger than themselves. The plight of the human race didn’t hold the same fascination for me, but I think that’s because it was just too familiar. Yes, they were on a massive starship, being woken up at odd points during the aeons-long journey to deal with some crisis. But when they did wake up, they made the same mistakes we see ourselves making today. I don’t think that’s a criticism more than an observation: thousands of years from now, we’ll still be trying to destroy ourselves. Yup, that’s most probably true – assuming we make it that far. Thinking about it, I probably shouldn’t have read it during an election year.
To write a book like this and make it a real page-turner is a feat in itself; I’m full of admiration for what Tchaikovsky has achieved here. Ten out of ten.