Adrian Tchaikovsky – Children of Time
An evolution-themed sci-fi novel, recommended to me by Tom Palmer. It is excellent. Humans terraform a world, intending to seed it with an evolution-accelerating nanovirus and populate it with monkeys as an experiment. But a Luddite revolution means that while the virus reaches the planet, the barrel of monkeys does not. Only a single human survives the battle, and she goes into hibernation for thousands of years in orbit around the planet. The virus instead works on the spiders that had already been seeded there and, to a lesser extent, ants. They grow their own civilization, which increases in complexity and sophistication throughout the novel in ways both very familiar and very alien.
Meanwhile, the Luddite revolution on Earth presages the end of civilization there, an Ice Age lasting millennia, what’s left of mankind slowly rebuilding civilization over several more millennia, and once again becoming a space-faring race. While not quite as sophisticated as the original Empire, things go south again, and life on Earth is no longer an option. A colony ship containing the last humans in the universe finds its way to the terraformed planet’s system after two thousand years’ hibernation, not knowing what had happened before, in response to a distress beacon left by the original terraformer. The two species’ civilizations then meet.
The chapters go back and forth between the human and spider civilizations, so both of their trajectories are always in the reader’s mind, and Tchaikovsky tells each from the perspective of that species. Along the way reader, author, and characters explore larger themes such as evolution, the origins of life, the handing off from one generation to the next, the desire to survive, and seeing things from the other fellow’s perspective, too. It’s a little on the long side, but I could not put this book down. Highly recommended.