Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky (2015) 600 p.

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It’s odd that Tchaikovsky picked the title Children of Time, since this refers to the less interesting of his novel’s two storylines: a relatively generic sci-fi yarn about a sleeper ship called the Gilgamesh which, through various trials and tribulations across the millenia, sees its crew going in and out of cryo-sleep as they try to find a new home for themselves, possibly the last remnants of the human race sent out thousands of years ago from a dying earth. The other story thread concerns what takes place on the first planet the Gilgamesh encounters: a terraformed world established by their own long-dead ancestors, in which a tailored virus was designed to uplift the local monkeys so that they’d evolve into something human-like in mere millenia, rather than millions of years. The problem is that something went wrong with the project, and the virus uplifted a different kind of animal entirely.

Anybody who hears about this book will probably also learn which animal, and it’s not like it isn’t revealed quite early, but I still won’t spoil it here. It’s an appealing elevator pitch for a science fiction doorstopper, and certainly the more compelling of the two storylines. Not that the story of the Gilgamesh is unentertaining – and in fact Tchaikovsky has a real skill for stringing out tension and ending chapters on cliffhangers – but the characters are rather flat, and towards the end it starts to become a bit of a colour-by-numbers generation starship story, with nothing we haven’t seen before and certain scenes and concepts Tchaikovsky seems to be including out of obligation. Like most sci-fi writers he also has an enthusiasm for expository dialogue and summary rather than scene – not an issue so much for the god’s-eye view storyline back on the planet, covering many thousands of generations of a developing intelligent society, but a bit of a drag when dealing with the same three or four characters arguing aboard the Gilgamesh.

Overall, though, this book is really good stuff. It’s 600 pages long and I burned through it in about four days. Good, readable, creative sci-fi that would make for a great airplane book.