Seems like quite a long time since I wrote a novel. The last one was The Quisling Orchid way back when.
Since then I’ve been fiddling with screenplays, writing short stories, winning competitions (ahem) and working with the fine fine people who make up my local writers group.
But I have been working on one book for a while now …
A couple of years back, my mother became very ill. She always enjoyed reading when she had the chance, but during her final year, she preferred having either of her sons read to her. Since she couldn’t really concentrate on a full length novel, I started writing a collection of linked short stories, so I could read her each chapter as I finished it.
Sadly, my mother passed away before I could write the last few stories. I didn’t feel like carrying on with it, or writing anymore, for that matter, so the novella languished inside a laptop for a couple of years, and I sort of turned my back on writing.
I’m not sure why I picked it up again. Would love to say I had some sort of otherworldly epiphany, but it wasn’t that exciting. While sorting out my mother’s effects, we found a stack of handwritten papers: the beginnings of an autobiography. It was deeply moving and beautifully written. I had no idea she could write. I mean, when I talked about my writing, she never mentioned it.
Now I think about it, maybe it was an epiphany. Anyway, I dusted off the novella with a plan to self-publish it (for free if I can figure out how) before the end of the year. Sort of a tribute to my Mum.
It’s been a while since I treated myself to a good book, so I was on the lookout for something a little off-the-cuff. I’d read the first part of Vandermeer’s Southern Reach trilogy, and though I enjoyed it, I don’t think I liked it enough to pick up the next two. (Though, that probably says more about my attention span than the writer’s talent).
In many ways, Borne was very similar to Annihilation: set in an unspecified land at some unspecified point in the future, it follows a female protagonist and her partner trying to survive in what’s left of the world following untempered experimentation in biotechnology. What doesn’t help is that the Company responsible for the disaster seems to have gotten away with it (maybe everyone was too preoccupied with staying alive to bring about some sort of legal case), and are still developing some weird and less-than-wonderful creatures to inflict upon the surviving populace. Their biggest success (and I do mean biggest) is Mord, a bear-like creature several storeys high who just happens to be able to fly.
Or he was their biggest success until Rachel, our protagonist, discovers a tiny plant-like creature sticking to his fur. She removes it, takes it home, calls it Borne, and watches it grow into a sentient being with limitless shape-shifting abilities and a hunger for learning. All seems to be going well, aside from her partner’s suspicions, until she notices that the lizards, insects and people around their camp are disappearing, and that Borne is getting larger.
What’s worse is that he doesn’t seem to excrete…
Yep, it’s that weird, and it’s a real treat of a book. The setting is painstakingly crafted to give a despairing sense of place, and the story cracks along at a reasonable pace, though sometimes I did find it got a little slow. This is undoubtedly aiming at the literary end of the dystopia/sci-fi market, so it does focus a lot on the characterisation, mostly Rachel’s. The whole story is told through introspective memories with a lot of detail wrought around her conflicted feelings for Borne and her partner, Wick.
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).