Children of Memory is the final book of a trilogy by prolific sci-fi writer Adrain Tchaikovsky. The first one in the series - Children of Time - won the Arthur C Clarke Award for Science Fiction – the UK’s most prestigious science fiction prize. EDIT: And now winner of the Hugo award for best science fiction series.
Mistrust of those outside of our group; debates about what “intelligence” actually is, and that who we are isn’t governed by the bodies we inhabit - Children of Memory takes very now topics and blasts them thousands of light years away into the future and plants them into something of a philosophical horror story.
This probably isn’t the most cheery way to start a book review but, well, bear with me a mo’ - it doesn’t take a huge leap of the imagination to look at the world around us, to look at the news, and come to a conclusion along the lines of “huh, these humans might not be able to stick it out much longer on this planet.”
And the question “could the human race make a home and continue on another planet?” doesn’t seem that preposterous and we know that for starters there have been projects looking at how people might survive not just a trip to Mars, but how they might live on the red planet in the short term. But what might the survival of the human race look like faaaar into the future?
HOME AND AWAY
Don’t worry, I’m not going to fling around any big spoilers, but with this being the final book in a trilogy, I kinda have to mention the first two in order to do justice to this last one.
When I read the first book - Children of Time - a few years ago, I can still recall just how impressed I was with the imaginative and creative world building.
We are into the far future and ships have been sent across the Universe to attempt to terraform suitable planets. One such controversial mission sets out to “start again” with the human race by sending monkeys to live on a planet and to use a nano-virus that will speed their evolution. Conflict on earth reaches the stars and the plan goes awry causing a whole different species to evolve…
In the second book, we are taken to two neighbouring planets where humans have succeeded again in terraforming one of them and populating it with an evolved species courtesy of the nano virus. When the situation escalates between the two planets, there is a further link to the first book to help resolve it.
I really hope I am explaining this in a way that doesn’t make it sound massively complicated, but you’ll have to believe me that Tchaikovsky’s attention to detail and masterful description of the science aspects make it not only vivid, but also incredibly logical and easy to imagine.
STARTING FROM SCRATCH
When we arrive at Children of Memory, we get to meet a surviving Human crew on an Ark ship that is carrying thousands of people who have been in suspended animation for the millennia journey across the stars. The crew have been woken intermittently to keep the vessel on track. But now it is time for Captain Holst to lead his tattered crew and their world building tech down onto the planet Imir and try to build a new civilization.
The heart of this story follows Liff, a teenage girl who has grown up on the planet as a descendent of those first settlers. It is a little like tales of the families making a life on the old wild west frontier - trouble with livestock, crops, natural disasters, and an increasing superstition about what is to blame for their troubles. Or is it more than superstition? Is there, perhaps, something really out there sabotaging their community? And why do events seem to be repeating for Liff? She sets out to find the witch in the woods as she searches for answers that her dreams keep promising her.
There is a lurking sense of dread and a haunting creepiness to this desolate world and it manages to highlight some of the best, most indomitable qualities of human beings alongside some of our worst. The questions ‘what really is intelligence?” and “what really makes us who we are?” take turns in being very simple and then …not.
STRANGE NEW WORLDS
Quite often in science fiction, alien worlds or species don’t stray too far from the familiar. With Tchaikovsky’s work, it’s almost like that’s an insult to the very notion of evolution. He takes current ideas around genetic and bioengineering, nano tech, and AI; and has enormous fun exploring how they might develop into the distant future. I don’t think it’s that far-fetched to suggest that there are more original ideas in this novel than we have seen in the last few years from major movie studios.
New life forms are intricately mapped out with a full evolutionary history and social structures as well as detailed physiology. I particularly enjoyed how the idea of a shared history and knowledge can be passed down genetically through generations, and how communication had developed in radically different ways.
There is a precision to the writing that ensures everything weird and new is described with clarity. It’s kinda like the opposite of those vague and generic house descriptions that estate agents are so fond of. As someone who enjoys being able to picture everything and isn’t a fan of having too many unanswered questions - this style is immensely appealing.
By the end of this book, I had grown quite attached to the unique space gang that was exploring the universe and I will hold out hope that it is a series that the author might return to at some point.
Also, for those of you that like a BIG BOOK, if you get into this series, you get THREE BIG BOOKS to keep you going. How satisfying is the “whomp” noise you get when you close a big hardback book?
Adrian Tchaikovsky: https://adriantchaikovsky.com/
My biscuit rating?
Le Petit Biscotte crunchy cinnamon - unique, slightly exotic, with a rich complex taste.