Children of Time is a book I had known about for a long time but never decided to read. One of my – somewhat illogical – reasons was that it deals a lot with spiders. I don’t like spiders at all. You should have seen me on my walk this morning when I went out before 6:00 am, apparently the first walker in my neighborhood. I ran right into a spider web between my house and a tree that obviously was just woven over night. I did the incredible spider dance, frantically brushing my face and body to get rid of any nasty that I might have picked up. Yes, I don’t like spiders at all.
My son-in-law, also an avid science fiction reader, recently mentioned that the book Children of Time was one of his favorite science fiction stories of all time. That was enough to put me over the edge and I finally read it. It’s a big book with a print length of 608 pages, but it’s even a bigger book content-wise.
There are four main themes in this story that are woven together to create this plot.
- Theme 1 – Earth is being destroyed and polluted by humans to the point where it becomes uninhabitable
- Theme 2 – Humans leave in generation ships
- Theme 3 – Terraforming technology
- Theme 4 – Evolution and uplift
As you might imagine, every one of these themes is a complex subject for a novel, but putting four into the same book seems impossible. Yet, the author accomplished just that.
For Theme 1, this is an epic story. Humanity has achieved travel to the stars. The solar system is populated with colonies and terraforming technology. The first starships have left to explore other star systems. But at home on Earth, humans have polluted the planet to the point where is no longer livable, and various factions, including religious ones, are starting to go to war over resources. Eventually, humanity self-destructs, not only physically, but a computer virus (a little far fetched) disables all automated systems it can reach. Only the farthest-away space ships have a chance to evade the virus. Eventually, a few thousand years go by, and that world is known as the “Old Empire.” A new generation of humanity rises from the ashes and again ascends to space travel. Their level of technology is well below that of the Old Empire, and much of their frontier work is comprised of finding and salvaging Old Empire technology. Usually they find it in orbiting hulks of ancient space stations. These new humans are now spreading again to the stars in search of planets they can terraform.
For Theme 2, there is no magic technology that overcomes the speed of light, so the starships only travel at a fraction of the speed of light, making journeys take decades or even centuries. Since humans can’t live that long, they are put to sleep cryogenically and the ships operate robotically and wake humans only when they arrive at their destinations, or when there is a problem or a decision to be made.
I love generation ship stories, enough that there is an entire category that labels them in this blog. You can select it on the Categories dropdown on the right. This is a pretty good generation ship story.
For Theme 3, it always strikes me as odd that the Earth is so polluted and destroyed, it can’t be lived on, but some dead ice planet light years away can be terraformed so human life can sustain itself. Is it really easier to terraform an alien environment than to rekindle the Old Earth? Maybe not, but it sure makes for a good foundation for a story about star travel.
For Theme 4, this is a book about evolution, and more importantly, uplift, the process where one species helps another along in evolution to develop sentience. In this story, a human-developed virus is released into nature with the intent of helping apes become intelligent and sentient. Humans intended to create a slave race. However, things did not go as planned, there were no apes for the virus. But there were spiders. Over time, as the spiders became more and more intelligent, they became sentient, rose to be the dominant species on their planet, developed civilization, technology and eventually space travel.
Imagine if spiders became as smart as humans? What would their dwellings look like? What kind of society would they build? How about their cities? What about wars and weapons? How would they communicate?
And now imagine humans landed on the planet of the spiders. What would the spiders think of them? And how would the humans view the spiders? Would they be able to communicate?
Children of Time is a good uplift story. However, it does not come close to the works of the master of uplift, David Brin. If you are interested in this subject, I recommend you read Sundiver, Book 1 of the Uplift Saga, to get you started. I do not have a ready review of that, since it’s been too long ago that I read those books, but I found them utterly fascinating.
I am glad I read Children of Time and I made it past my fear of spiders, at least for the book. I am still killing them when I see them in the house, though.