You're not even my monkeys...

I've heard a lot of praise for Tchaikovsky and his unique storytelling concepts. After having picked up CHILDREN OF TIME during an Audible promotion, I've been waiting for the mood to strike for me to give this a try.  

4/5 While very strange in a lot of ways, this book certainly delivered on a unique premise and excecated it in a way that felt rather special. 

While this book does have a plotline it follows, I would say that the main focus of the story is primarily with the concept. There are certainly twists and turns along the way, but the real surprises come in the form of the way that the various concepts the book puts forward are explored. The basic setup is fairly straightforward. This is a bleak futuristic setting where humanity has damaged the planet Earth beyond repair, but has also taken to the stars. Through a series of events in the early chapters, we learn that all that remains of the human race is now stored aboard the starship Gilgamesh. The core crew of the ship seeks out fabled worlds terraformed by "The Old Empire" in the hopes that one of them will become the new home for mankind. On one such world, there is a new race of sentient creatures that's evolving over time with their mentally unstable creator looming above them in space to observe their progress, kept alive by cryostasis and a rather sophisticated AI to control the satellite she sleeps in. If this is all starting to sound a little strange, then the life that's blossoming down on this alien world will likely be even more bizarre. Without giving too much away, we are essentially dealing with sentient bug people. They're not cute, anthropomorphic cartoon bug people, but rather an evolved version of creatures from Earth that have developed in some unexpected ways. The story essentially flip flops between this gradual evolution narrative and the desperate survival plot of the human race as they roam space, deal with infighting, face certain death, and contend with all manner of obstacles to finding their new home. It's hard to say too much more without spoiling anything, but this was certainly one of the most unique types of stories that I have ever enjoyed. The bits with the bug people were definitely quite odd, especially early on in the book when I was still getting used to the idea, but I think it was all well done. I was also a little bit worried that the book would end in an unsatisfying way since this is one of those stories where it's almost impossible to predict where things would go. While things may not wrap up in the way you expected or wanted them too, I personally found the conclusion to be satisfying and believable all things considered. 

Similar to my comments on the plot, there are indeed some good characters in this book, but they're not the main point of it. The narrative itself spans multiple centuries and therefore many generations, but Tchaikovsky wisely found some ways to give the cast a little bit of consistency. On the bug-people side of things, we actually follow different characters at different points in time, however the new characters share names with those that came before and are the direct ancestors of those characters. Through a biological process that I won't get into, the past traits and experiences of one character actually carry down to their decedents, so there's a little bit of a common thread between these different generations of named bugs. On the human end, most of the story is told through the perspective of one character in particular who survives the years thanks to extended stays in cryo-sleep. He tends to get woken up at pivotal moments in the Gilgamesh's voyage and often catches up on events that have gone on without him while his younger associates at the start of the story all age without him due to their prolonged stints outside of cryo.  

The world, or rather the universe, that is laid out here is a fascinating one indeed. While Earth is mentioned often, we never actually get to see this version of it. I think this is a fine choice, since the point of the story is really that Earth is gone and the story speculates on how life can continue on after the planet's demise. That said, it would have been nice to maybe get a little more info about how exactly things got to the point where the entire globe just could literally not sustain any life. The typical (and admittedly plausible) reasons of environmental strife and the ravages of war are provided, but I think my gripe is that we are simply told this information rather than shown it in any way. There are other instances where certain information is simply told to us, but I think that bothered me less since typically those expositional tidbits are just filling in context between different points in time to provide context for the current action and sort of has the effect of "skipping to the good stuff." While Earth may not get any page time, there are three key environments that were fascinating to explore. The first is the terraformed planet that the Gilgamesh first ventures to, which our strange little bug people are developing on. The Gilgamesh itself is a bit of a microcosm in some ways even though the vessel isn't necessarily intended to be lived upon. There is a second terraformed world which is also explored at one point in the story, though I don't want to say too much about that other than that it's inclusion was cool to see. One issue I took with the worldbuilding is that everything felt bizarrely atheistic, not so much in the sense that there was anything anti-religious, just that there isn't really any concept of religion that seemed to survive the fall of Earth. There are a couple of humans that sort of position themselves in a god-like posture, so it's clear that there is at least some notion of religion, albeit in odd, cult-like contexts, but there aren't any human characters that seem to have a faith of any kind. Perhaps the implication is that such things are lost to the past, but it felt somewhat off-putting this and other cultural concepts would be totally lost yet also somehow still acknowledged on a conceptual level. It's a weird nitpick, but one that broke my immersion slightly. 

I can't say that there was anything in particular about the packaging of this book that really drew me in. The cover is fine, the title is fine, and the book description is fine, though none of it really paints all that clear a picture at how unique this novel really is. Fortunately the narration for this book at least is quite spectacular. This was probably a rather challenging story to pair a performance with since sections of it read almost academically while others have more traditional dialogue and prose. Mel Hudson moved through both effortlessly in a way that made it all read as naturally as anything else. The character voices were all expertly varied as well with many of them having distinct accents that you could be forgiven for not believing were all done by one person. I also think this is a nice example of the audio narration not going so far as to overshadow the story being told. Instead, I felt like the vocalization served to fall nicely into the background and just guide readers through the adventure in a way that felt natural and right. 

If you're open to something a bit different then I think this book could be for you. I personally really appreciated it for what it did, but I'd fully understand if it isn't for everyone. There are some complex concepts which are explored here, but I was impressed with how accessibly it was all laid out and I'm really glad I finally read some Tchaikovsky. I will definitely be coming back for more at some point. 

(+) Cool alien worlds and futuristic technology
(+) A deeply engaging concept that was explored in-depth and developed in some fun ways
(+) Great management of the cast, especially considering how much time actually passes in the story
(+) Really interesting points of conflict with satisfying and though-provoking outcomes
(+) An expertly handled narration
(+) There is a complete story being told here even though this is part of a trilogy
(-) It took me a while to adjust to the whole "bug people" thing
(-) I had specific nitpicks about the worldbuilding and plot setup


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