Spiders Are Our Future in Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Brilliant Children of Time

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

There are aliens, right here on Earth. Right now. Intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, as H.G. Wells put it—though he was talking about life on Mars. Closer to home we have crows, who are happy to engage with friendly humans, and the less friendly (and altogether weirder) octopus. Strangest of all, and scariest to many of us, is the spider. They’re everywhere, and it’s pretty clear they’d be happy to have us for lunch, given the chance. And from hunting to weaving, they’re very good at what they do.

The Portia spider, for instance, captures much larger prey through mimicry, social coordination, and adaptability, qualities that explain why that particular species gets a big shout out in Adrian Tchaikovsky’s award-winning novel Children of Time, which won the Arthur C. Clarke Award in its native UK in 2015 and is finally getting a proper North American release after years of being available only as an import (not that that prevented it from making our list of the best sci-fi books of the year). “Portia” is the name taken by generations of leaders in an evolved spider society unleashed, quite accidentally, on a lifeless alien world via a misdirected payload of a human-engineered virus. What sounds like the premise for a 1950s monster movie becomes a fascinating, thoughtful, and impressively moving exploration of cultures in conflict.

Monkeys were the plan. Brilliant and ambitious (if morally deficient) scientist Avrana Kern thinks she’s figured out how to save the human race from itself, even if her idea doesn’t, strictly speaking, include humans. Monkeys placed on a sleeper ship and deposited on a promising-yet-remote alien planet will be infected with a nanovirus that will steer their evolution along human lines. The virus would allow the creatures to evolve in parallel to their new home, adapted to an environment outside of Earth, while still serving as a kind of successor to humanity.

Naturally, there are people back on Earth who don’t see the advantage in being superseded rather than saved, and a terrorist incident throws Dr. Kern’s plan into chaos. The virus escapes, but doesn’t find its intended host in Dr. Kern’s monkeys, instead infecting the insect life earlier brought to the planet to prime it for its planned population of super-monkeys. In a storyline running parallel to that of the ill-fated human expedition, we encounter the first spider referred to as Portia, a smarter-than-usual example of her species. As the virus takes hold, we follow subsequent generations of Portias who lead their fellow spiders—as much as spiders can be lead—into the development of a new society, with ever-increasing intelligence evolving along spider-ish lines.

Tchaikovsky’s take on spider society is fascinating and certainly feels plausible, managing to intrigue despite the outlandishness of the premise—as the intelligence of the arachnid community grows, we’re able to meet them halfway in understanding the very alien world and the ways of thinking of a predatory species. The spiders aren’t the only creatures that have evolved, though, and they eventually engage in brutal conflicts with ants that rival any epic clash in fantasy literature (Tchaikovsky knows from insects and spiders, having penned the 10-book Shadows of the Apt series, about warring races of humans augmented with insectile and arachnid abilities, as well as the D&D-friendly novella Spiderlight). Like the spiders, the uplifted ants develop intelligence appropriate to their own bodies and culture, making a functioning ant colony a sort of hive mind not unlike a giant computer.

]During the long evolution of the species, a human ship, the Gilgamesh, arrives with some of the last survivors of mankind in cryogenic sleep. They’re desperate for a new home, and Dr. Kern’s world seems perfect—even with the over-sized spiders and relentless ants, it’s still the most promising place they’ve found. What’s left of Dr. Kern herself—an uploaded intelligence, trapped in an orbiting satellite—ferociously guards her experiment, though, forcing the humans to regroup elsewhere, and consider making desperate alliances. Over the centuries, the spiders evolve rapidly thanks both to the virus (which gifts them with complex genetic memory) and their short lifespans, as does the culture of the remnants of humanity onboard the cryoship.

In both societies, there are triumphs and mistakes; periods of horrific violence and remarkable achievement. Each is subject to unavoidable catastrophe, but each is also more than capable of harming itself. Examining the growing pains of civilization is just the biggest of several very big ideas Tchaikovsky explores; likewise he illustrates the ways in which two societies with very different ways of living and thinking could both grow in parallel and sharply diverge. There are questions of religion, as humans create a new messiah over the centuries and the spiders come to understand their connection to the blinking satellite in the sky. There’s even a smart, slightly cheeky look at sexism, as the female-dominated spider society takes a very long time to see males as much more than post-coital snacks.

]ean2]The science-fiction question here has to do with alien intelligence. How do spider think, and what would it be like to be one? It’s a worthwhile question in and of itself to build a fun book around, but Tchaikovsky’s focus is a bit more ambitious than simple fun. The real question isn’t about what it would be like to have an alien mind and life, but about how two very different cultures can find common enough ground to avoid destroying one another. What initially seems like a fascinating but somewhat pessimistic view of cultural conflict becomes, by the end, a bit more hopeful—a message that we can at least learn from each other, even if we can’t avoid every tragedy, if we just learn how to unlock the better spiders of our nature. Children of Time is utterly fascinating and utterly readable, the rare novel that’s as page-turning as it is intelligent. It’s also a perfect standalone novel—which doesn’t mean the forthcoming sequel, Children of Ruin, won’t be welcomed with open… legs.

Children of Time is available now. Children of Ruin hits shelves in May.

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This Week’s New Sci-Fi & Fantasy Books: Endless Snow, a Dimension-Hopping Locked Box, and Magically Coming of Age in Wyoming

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

Typeset in the Future, by Dave Addey 
Addey distills the fascinating studies of typography and design in science fiction that have made his blog a must-read into a brilliant, absorbing book. Via film stills, concept art, interviews, and other elements, Addey analyzes how the often-overlooked art of fonts and other design elements augment fantastic fictional universes and subtly, invisibly root them in a sort of fictional reality. Diving deep into iconic films like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Alien, Moon, and Total Recall, Addey explains how design decisions can have a profound effect not just on our enjoyment of a film, but on its lasting legacy in popular culture.

Burning Ashes, by James Bennett
The third book in Bennett’s fun contemporary fantasy series exploring a hidden world of magic and dragons that exists in the corners of the reality we know. The long peace between the human and mythical worlds is no more, and disgraced Guardian Dragon Ben Garston holds himself responsible. With the Long Sleep—the spell holding ancient magical creatures in stasis deep underground—no longer binding, the human world risks falling into ruin, and an incursion from the lands of the Fae is only making things worse. With The End looming, Ben will have to put down the bottle and pick himself up for one last fight.

Green Jay and Crow, by D.J. Daniels 
Daniels’ novel earns its comparisons to Philip K. Dick: weird, difficult, and occasionally obscure, this is a story that raises heavy questions about reality, humanity, and time without fully answering them. In the city of Barlewin, Kern Bromley is a human known as Crow, tasked with delivering a time-locked box to a dangerous criminal. Crow becomes linked to the box and begins jumping to alternate realities, meeting himself and glimpsing multiple possible realities. Eva, the Green Jay, is an artificial body double printed from plant matter. Eva lives in the memories of her creator, and should have disintegrated long ago, but is still struggling to find her way into reality, and has managed to remain in one piece through the assistance of a pair of robots named Felix and Oscar (the Chemical Conjurers). Eva’s survival depends on something inside the box Brom carries, but whether she can rely on him or not is an open question. This is a story that explores what it means to be real, to be human—and to be neither.

The Corporation Wars Trilogy, by Ken MacLeod
MacLeod’s excellent Corporation Wars trilogy (Dissidence, Insurgence, Emergence) is collected into a single omnibus edition, telling the whole story of a universe where vicious, ruthless companies use sophisticated AIs to wage cold and hot wars over mining rights. The commands take time to transmit to the robots, however, and in the space between them, the AIs have to make their own decisions—a dangerous situation that indirectly leads them to sentience and self-actualization. Seba is one of those freshly sentient AIs, and sparked a revolution among its fellow “freeboot”minds. Trying to keep them under control is Carlos, a soldier who, via technology, has been reincarnated over and over again. When Carlos and Seba begin to see each other as pawns in a game larger than them both, things get truly interesting—and having all three books in one binding is going to be very convenient once you’re totally hooked and unable to stop turning pages.

The Snow, by Adam Roberts
What if it started snowing… and never stopped? That’s the scenario explored in this early novel from British science-fiction writer Adam Roberts, finally back in print in the U.S. (albeit only as an ebook). Climate change takes a different tack in this post-apocalyptic adventure for readers who were chilled by the icy future of the film Snowpiercer, as a prolonged, heavy snow begins to fall everywhere, and keeps falling, piling higher and higher until eventually covering the planet in a shell of snow hundreds of miles thick. Their tallest cities long-buried, the remnants of humanity survive by digging out elaborate systems of tunnels and warrens, and trying to figure out what comes next. And you thought Westeros had it bad.

Rattlesnake Wind, by Lilith Saintcrow
Lilith Saintcrow has given us a novel revealing a vision of dark near-future America and coined the genre we labeled trailer park fantasy. Her latest is something new: a story of growing up, finding love, and discovering magic for the first time. Teenager Desiree Thompson moves across the country with her family to desolate Wyoming to build a new life in the wake of the death of her father. At first, life in the sleepy community seems to be going well, if not quite proceeding normally: Desiree dates a local boy and befriends a woman who teaches her how to see visions of the future. But then, a dangerous stranger enters town and begins dating Desiree’s mother, and everything begins to go wrong. The metaphor is obvious, but Saintcrow’s writing never is; this coming-of-age tale is as genuine as it is magical.

Children of Time, by Adrian Tchaikovsky
Adrian Tchaikovsky apparently has a thing for spiders. This 2015 book, formerly available only as a UK import, is being republished in the U.S. by Orbit just in time for the May 2019 debut of the sequel, Children of Ruin. It’s a magnificently imaginative space opera about the last remnants of humanity’s diaspora to the stars, who believe they’ve found their new Eden—a terraformed planet perfectly suited to human life—until they discover another batch of colonists (of the massive, fiendishly intelligent, eight-legged variety) is also vying for a spot at the top of the food chain. It’s a novel that once again proves the author a master at manipulating familiar elements of the genre (generation ships, cryosleep, truly alien civilizations), while injecting his own brand of venomous originality—due to the colony world’s ideal environment, the spider race evolves at an accelerated rate, allowing us to witness entire epochs of its history, from squishable bugs to a space-faring civilization to be reckoned with, in the span of a few hundred idea-packed pages.

A Bad Deal for the Whole Galaxy, by Alex White
The second book in the big, gay, action-packed space opera series The Salvagers (after August’s A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe) opens with Nilah and Boots basking in the newfound wealth shared by the crew of the Capricious in the wake of their last desperate adventure. They could’ve just spent their money and enjoyed life for a change, basking in the glory of having literally just saved the universe from destruction, but no: when rumors of an ancient cult linked to a dangerous, ancient power reach them, they know they have to act. Nilah goes undercover, testing her short temper, while Boots faces up to her past, forced to look up her traitorous ex-partner. If you’re getting Firefly vibes from all that, you’re right on the money; Browncoats will find a lot to love in this fast, funny, and wickedly smart series.

What new SFF is on your list this week?

The post This Week’s New Sci-Fi & Fantasy Books: Endless Snow, a Dimension-Hopping Locked Box, and Magically Coming of Age in Wyoming appeared first on The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog.

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The Best Science Fiction & Fantasy Books of December 2018

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

For two decades, Jim Killen has served as the science fiction and fantasy book buyer for Barnes & Noble. Every month on Tor.com and the B&N Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog, Jim shares his curated list of the month’s best science fiction & fantasy books.

King of the Road, by R.S. Belcher (December 4, Tor Books—Hardcover)
R.S. Belcher, author of the occult-themed western Six-Gun Tarot and Shotgun Arcana, delivers a companion novel to 2016’s Brotherhood of the Wheel,  which follows a secret group of big rig acolytes (descended from the Knights Templar) who  protects the highways and byways of America from the dark forces that stalk the open roads. Brotherhood member Jimmie Aussapile, his partner/squire Heck, a state trooper, and a road witch find themselves tied up in a snake’s nest of intertwining crimes and conspiracies: missing persons, a ghostly clown, a cultish alchemist, the risen dead, monstrous shadows, and warring biker gangs. Belcher wends his way through urban legends and American folklore, gunning the engine all the way to the explosive conclusion.

The Shattered Sun, by Rachel Dunne (December 4, Harper Voyager—Paperback)
Dunne concludes her Bound Gods series with suitably epic flair. After being cast down and imprisoned in the mortal realm by their parents, the gods Patharro and Metherra, Fratarro and Sororra—known as The Twins—are finally free, and the Long Night has begun as they revel in power. Only the rogue priest Joros has a hope of stopping them, and he’s assembled a desperate band of fellow rogues to aid in the attempt. But gods always have disciples, and it’s no different for The Twins, whose faithful exhibit powers only gods can comprehend—and are bent on revenge. Time is short; once The Twins are at full strength, they will be able to bend the world to their wills—so, ready or not, Joros and his champions must move quickly, or the whole world might be lost.

Soulbinder, by Sebastien de Castell (December 4, Orbit—Paperback)
The fourth book in de Castell’s Spellslinger series continues the desperate adventures of Kellen, a mage whose magic failed him just as he was about to turn 16 and take part in the magical duel that would designate him a true spellcaster. Kellen used his brains and low cunning to hide his secret, but after his ruse was exposed, he was rescued by a mysterious stranger—and plunged into a complex web of skulduggery and black magic. After regaining his powers and mastering his magic as a hunter of renegade mages, Kellen is now cursed, and experiences frequent and violent visions even as he’s chased by a group of bounty hunters. Desperate, he sets out to find a group of monks rumored to be able to cure his affliction—but he knows little about them, nor what price the cure may cost him.

Splintered Suns, by Michael Cobley (December 4, Orbit—Paperback)
Cobley’s fifth—and apparently final—entry in the Humanity’s Fire series is an interstellar Ocean’s 11, but with higher stakes and more space pirates. Brannan Pyke leads a crew on a heist that might gain them the Essavyr Key, an ancient relic that offers access to the long-lost technologies of a vanished alien civilization. First, however, they’ll have to break into a bio-engineered museum to steal a tracking device that will lead them to a shattered desert planet, where an immense alien ship is buried under the shifting sands. The key is somewhere on that ship—but claiming it will require Pyke to avoid or defeat an old enemy seeking the same prize. You needn’t be caught up on the other books in the series to enjoy this action-packed treasure hunt, but after you read it, you’ll probably want to circle back.

Tales from Plexis, by Julie E. Czerneda (December 4, DAW—Paperback)
Not every fictional universe is robust enough to sustain a whole series of books, and very few are inspiring enough to get other authors involved in the worldbuilding. The Clan Chronicles is now one of those rare creations to grow larger than its creator: Czerneda has opened up the sandbox to her peers, collecting 23 linked short stories into a mosaic novel centered on the legendary Plexis Supermarket, a place where the greedy, the desperate, and the adventurous come to find… just about anything. Authors like  Tanya Huff, Amanda Sun, Ika Koeck, and many more have a blast exploring the origins and teasing out the details of some of the Trade Pact’s most memorable bits—including the true nature of the Turrneds and the Neblokans, and a whole bunch about truffles. We can’t imagine a more fitting celebration of this legendary intergalactic hotspot.

A Bad Deal for the Whole Galaxy, by Alex White (December 11, Orbit—Paperback)
The second book in the big, gay, action-packed space opera series The Salvagers (after August’s A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe) opens with Nilah and Boots basking in the newfound wealth shared by the crew of the Capricious in the wake of their last desperate adventure. They could’ve just spent their money and enjoyed life for a change, basking in the glory of having literally just saved the universe from destruction, but no: when rumors of an ancient cult linked to a dangerous, ancient power reach them, they know they have to act. Nilah goes undercover, testing her short temper, while Boots faces up to her past, forced to look up her traitorous ex-partner. If you’re getting Firefly vibes from all that, you’re right on the money; Browncoats will find a lot to love in this fast, funny, and wickedly smart series.

Children of Time, by Adrian Tchaikovsky (December 11, Orbit—Paperback)
Adrian Tchaikovsky apparently has a thing for spiders. This 2015 book, formerly available only as a UK import, is being republished in the U.S. by Orbit just in time for the May 2019 debut of the sequel, Children of Ruin. It’s a magnificently imaginative space opera about the last remnants of humanity’s diaspora to the stars, who believe they’ve found their new Eden—a terraformed planet perfectly suited to human life—until they discover another batch of colonists (of the massive, fiendishly intelligent, eight-legged variety) is also vying for a spot at the top of the food chain. It’s a novel that once again proves the author a master at manipulating familiar elements of the genre (generation ships, cryosleep, truly alien civilizations), while injecting his own brand of venomous originality—due to the colony world’s ideal environment, the spider race evolves at an accelerated rate, allowing us to witness entire epochs of its history, from squishable bugs to a space-faring civilization to be reckoned with, in the span of a few hundred idea-packed pages.

The Corporation Wars Trilogy, by Ken MacLeod (December 11, Orbit—Paperback)
MacLeod’s excellent Corporation Wars trilogy (Dissidence, Insurgence, Emergence) is collected into a single omnibus edition, telling the whole story of a universe where vicious, ruthless companies use sophisticated AIs to wage cold and hot wars over mining rights. The commands take time to transmit to the robots, however, and in the space between them, the AIs have to make their own decisions—a dangerous situation that indirectly leads them to sentience and self-actualization. Seba is one of those freshly sentient AIs, and sparked a revolution among its fellow “freeboot”minds. Trying to keep them under control is Carlos, a soldier who, via technology, has been reincarnated over and over again. When Carlos and Seba begin to see each other as pawns in a game larger than them both, things get truly interesting—and having all three books in one binding is going to be very convenient once you’re totally hooked and unable to stop turning pages.

Green Jay and Crow, by D.J. Daniels (December 11, Abaddon—Paperback)
Daniels’ novel earns its comparisons to Philip K. Dick: weird, difficult, and occasionally obscure, this is a story that raises heavy questions about reality, humanity, and time without fully answering them. In the city of Barlewin, Kern Bromley is a human known as Crow, tasked with delivering a time-locked box to a dangerous criminal. Crow becomes linked to the box and begins jumping to alternate realities, meeting himself and glimpsing multiple possible realities. Eva, the Green Jay, is an artificial body double printed from plant matter. Eva lives in the memories of her creator, and should have disintegrated long ago, but is still struggling to find her way into reality, and has managed to remain in one piece through the assistance of a pair of robots named Felix and Oscar (the Chemical Conjurers). Eva’s survival depends on something inside the box Brom carries, but whether she can rely on him or not is an open question. This is a story that explores what it means to be real, to be human—and to be neither.

Typeset in the Future, by Dave Addey (December 11, Abrams—Hardcover)
Addey distills the fascinating studies of typography and design in science fiction that have made his blog a must-read into a brilliant, absorbing book. Via film stills, concept art, interviews, and other elements, Addey analyzes how the often-overlooked art of fonts and other design elements augment fantastic fictional universes and subtly, invisibly root them in a sort of fictional reality. Diving deep into iconic films like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Alien, Moon, and Total Recall, Addey explains how design decisions can have a profound effect not just on our enjoyment of a film, but on its lasting legacy in popular culture.

Siege of Stone, by Terry Goodkind (December 31, Tor Books—Hardcover)
The handsomely jacketed third book in Goodkind’s Nicci Chronicles (set in the Sword of Truth universe) opens with Nicci, Nathan Rahl, and Bannon still in the city of Ildakar. The good news is that the slaves have been freed and the Wizard’s Council defeated. The bad news is that as he fled the city, the Wizard Commander Maxim removed the ancient spell that turned the army of General Utros—the most feared military commander in the world 1,500 years prior—to stone. As his army wakes from its enchanted prison, Utros lays siege to the city, and Nicci, Nathan, and Bannon must use every magical defense to save it—and find a way to save the world from not one, but two ancient enemies, each poised to destroy everything in their path.

What new sci-fi and fantasy books are on your wish list this December?

The post The Best Science Fiction & Fantasy Books of December 2018 appeared first on The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog.

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/blog/sci-fi-fantasy/the-best-science-fiction-fantasy-books-of-december-2018/