Book notes: Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky book summary review and key ideas.

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Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky


“Adrian Tchaikovksy’s critically acclaimed stand-alone novel Children of Time is the epic story of humanity’s battle for survival on a terraformed planet.

Who will inherit this new Earth?

The last remnants of the human race left a dying Earth, desperate to find a new home among the stars. Following in the footsteps of their ancestors, they discover the greatest treasure of the past age – a world terraformed and prepared for human life.

But all is not right in this new Eden. In the long years since the planet was abandoned, the work of its architects has borne disastrous fruit. The planet is not waiting for them pristine and unoccupied. New masters have turned it from a refuge into mankind’s worst nightmare.

Now two civilizations are on a collision course, both testing the boundaries of what they will do to survive. As the fate of humanity hangs in the balance, who are the true heirs of this new Earth?” -Audible

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Opening thoughts:

I have new clue what to expect but this seems like a highly rated book, so I’m excited. I seem to have this trend of reading about sci-fi books with interstellar space travel and colonization. They’re all pretty interesting and good book so far, though I wonder how long it might take for me to get sick of the genre. It is very interesting because I learn a lot about science when I dig into this genre.

Key notes:

Part 1: Genesis

Chapter 1.1: Just A Barrel of Monkeys

  • This scientist pushed for the rapid development of monkeys via a virus that would make them evolve quickly, and help make the new world habitable for humans eventually, their makers
    • But there was a a lot of pushback until eventually science prevailed
  • There was a rebellion of purist humans who were against genetic modification for longevity, supercomputer AI, and smart monkeys

Chapter 1.2: Brave Little Huntress

Chapter 1.3: The Lights Go Out

  • Dr. Kern was awakened by the ship computer after 14 years in cryosleep to let her know that all radio signals stopped
    • She came to the conclusion that the war resulted in the destruction of many human colonies
  • The AI told her that a virus sent out in all directions was meant to wipe out all computer systems that received it. Which meant all the colonies reliant on computers would die
    • Their ship was unaffected because this AI was a copy of her personality construct and the virus was not designed to attack them

Part 2: Pilgrimage

Chapter 2.1: Two Thousand Years From Home

Chapter 2.2: Earth’s Other Children

Chapter 2.3: Enigma Variations

  • The crew now awake came across the terra formed planet and were preparing to check it out
  • Aside from the distress signal, there was another signal being sent toward the planet. It was a string of math problems, so the crew sent in the answers

Chapter 2.4: poor relations

Chapter 2.5: all these worlds are yours

  • The Dr. Kern AI program hacked their ship and gave them coordinates and keys to go to other closest terraforming projects 

Chapter 2.6: Metropolis

Chapter 2.7: Exodus

Part 3: War

Chapter 3.1: Rude Awakening

  • There was a mutiny on the Gilgamesh

Chapter 3.2: Fire And The Sword

  • The ant colony attacks the spider colony, then the spiders have to flee

Chapter 3.3: Rock and a Hard Place

  • The mutiny crew planned to try and get to the planet and hopefully survive against the ancient empire tech and the monsters living there

Chapter 3.4: By The Western Ocean

Chapter 3.5: Bearing a Flaming Sword

  • The mutiny crew on their way to the planet tried to negotiate with with satellite computer protecting it 

Chapter 3.6: Dulce Et Decorum Est

  • The scholar Bianca asks Portia to try out a new plan and new technology against the ants, and to bring a small group of female warriors with her
    • It’s basically a suicide mission for the greater good

Chapter 3.7: War in Heaven

  • The mutiny shuttle delayed the satellite and made it to the planet’s atmosphere

Chapter 3.8: Asymmetrical Warfare

  • The spider infiltration was successful and they were able to take control of the entire ant colony

Chapter 3.9: First Contact

  • The mutinous crew came across the spiders who attacked them
    • Then the recovery shuttle killed the crew except for the hostages and retrieved them per the satellite AI Kern’s orders

Chapter 3.10: Giants in the Earth

  • Portia recounts the story of the giants coming down and how it might be related to the sky god
    • Most died or returned to the sky except for one, who stayed on the planet
  • She plans to capture this giant and unravel the mysteries

Chapter 3.11: This Island Gulag

  • The original plan continued with part of the crew staying on the moon and passing it on to their children
    • It’s was either a death or life sentence

Chapter 3.12: A Voice in the Wilderness

  • The spiders figured their dominance and domestication of the ants and the arrival of the giants were related
  • The spiders were baffled by and hypothesized the reason for the source of the second star’s signal in the sky

Part 4: Enlightenment

Chapter 4.1: The Cave of Wonders

  • Holsten Mason was tasked as the old tech expert to decode their lost empire’s signals and transmissions

Chapter 4.2: Death Comes Riding

  • A plague has befallen the spiders and the once bustling civilization is now being crippled
    • Portia is attempting to beat the plague

Chapter 4.3: Notes from a Grey Planet

  • The next planet was a fungal-covered planet
  • It was barely liveable, seemingly eventually abandoned

Chapter 4.4: Inquiring Minds

  • By this time, Bianca’s obsession with talking to the Messenger in the sky had led to her almost exile from the community
  • Bianca asked for Portia’s help in using the metal device to communicate to the Messenger

Chapter 4.5: Dreams of the Ancients

  • The more Holsten learned about the ancients, the less he liked them
    • Their technology was far beyond anything they had, but they were a failed people
      • His people were destined to fall into the same traps

Chapter 4.6: The Messenger Within

  • Another spider Viola has been able to break down the science of Understandings that are passed on to each generation
  • They discovered in Viola’s notes that she was able to find and isolate the nano-virus that has been assisting their evolution and passing along their Understandings
    • Portia realizes that they were meant to improve so that they could respond to the Messenger

Chapter 4.7: Not Prince Hamlet

  • She creates the serum to the plague and tries it on the infected Bianca
  • The commander was utilizing a personal team of engineers to build a machine that uploads people into a computer

Chapter 4.8: Age of Progress

  • The spiders finally were able to send a signal back to the Messenger in the sky

Chapter 4.9: Ex Machina

  • Dr. Kern was finally fully awakened, not just her uploaded consciousness 

Part 5: Schism

Chapter 5.1: The Prisoner

  • Holsten was awakened and was captive for almost a month
    • He didn’t recognize anyone, and the space was packed with primitively clothed people
  • Dr. Lain told him about how Guyen created a new cult of people who revered him as a god, and Lane retrieved Holsten from sleep 
  • Lain told him Guyen’s plan to become immortalized in the Gilgamesh ship
    • Lain rescued him from sleep because he was her friend

Chapter 5.2: IN GOD’S COUNTRY

  • After a few generations, the spider people finally decoded the language of the Messenger and built a rapport
    • They learned she was the last survivor of another race, and was tasked with creating life on this planet
  • Portia pleaded with Bianca to denounce her heretical beliefs and stay with her to avoid exile
    • But Bianca was steadfast in her beliefs which questioned the Messenger. She saw it was just a hunk of metal telling them to make more metal

Chapter 5.3: OLD FRIENDS

Chapter 5.4: THE RIGHT TO LIFE

  • Fabian tries to negotiate with Portia that he’ll not pass along his Understandings of the technology to reconfigure the ants and accelerate their growth, unless she promises to petition to the rulers that males be treated as equals and not lower class as it’s always been
  • Fabian breaks out Bianca and tell her his plan to go to 7 Trees and live his own life as a free male with others

Chapter 5.5: The Oldest Man in the Universe

  • Guyen tells Holsten that he’s been doing his best to preserve his species and working hard so that they can finally take the green planet

Chapter 5.6: Resource War

  • Fabian proved his power by destroying an attacking army with only 100 ants and only a dozen or so losses
  • Fabian bargains with the rulers of 7 Trees to try and protect the males and his own interests

Chapter 5.7: Ascension

  • Guyen was able to at least be partially uploaded to the ship but it didn’t go as planned 

Chapter 5.8: Conquering Hero

  • Fabian’s technological revolution has spread to other communities but guarded by his peer group
  • Dr. Kern is frustrated by her species’ slow progress, and wants them to advance and prepare faster because the Gilgamesh is coming back

Part 6: Zenith

Chapter 6.1: The Balloon Goes Up

  • The spiders built an airship with their new Understandings and engineering

Chapter 6.2: An Old Man in a Harsh Season

  • Dr. Mason was woken up by an engineering crew on the Gilgamesh but he had a nervous breakdown, even though the world he woken up to on the ship seemed to be okay

Chapter 6.3: Communication

  • Bianca sends a picture of their airship to the Messenger, and then sends her a picture of their spider colony, which leaves the Messenger speechless

Chapter 6.4: Epiphany

  • Dr Kern finally accepts the spiders as her children and sends them a message that she is here for them

Chapter 6.5: Things Fall Apart

  • Dr. Lain showed Holsten that they had a daughter together, frozen in an embryo for a future time, then he would have to create their new world for her when Lain eventually passes away

Chapter 6.6: And Touched the Face of God

  • Portia and Fabian are chosen to make first physical contact with the Messenger when their airship is sent upward
  • Dr. Kern couldn’t remember many details, but she told the spiders about how they came to be from another species that essentially killed itself and wasn’t able to see them, their creation
  • The mission failed, but the Messenger reassured them it was worth it
    • Fabian sacrificed himself to feed and save Portia

Part 7: Collision

Chapter 7.1: War Footing

  • The Gilgamesh made it back to the planet prepared to fight, but it was almost cocooned with a web in orbit around the satellite

Chapter 7.2 What Rough Beast

  • The Messenger finally communicated to them the problem to help them survive the incoming threat, which united the planet

“Little focuses the collective mind more decisively than the threat of utter extinction”

  • The spiders are surprisingly well-suited for space, and their technology makes moving and surviving in it much easier than before
  • The whole species is prepared to fight the invaders

Chapter 7.3: Maiden, Mother, Crone

  • The crew woke up Lain and they decided to attack
  • The prisoners’ dilemma was just math/logic

Chapter 7.4: End Times

  • Dr. Kern aka god was brought down and lives with the spiders. She exclusively communicates with Fabian
    • They downloaded her information/brain into the insects, which act as a computer
  • The spiders prepare for their space assault as the ship comes into orbit and starts attacking their webs

Chapter 7.5: Manoeuvres

  • Dr. Kern told them that they missed and that she was only an advisor at this point

Chapter 7.6: Breaking the Shell

  • The spiders were on the offensive and attempting to breach the hull of the ship

Chapter 7.7: The War Outside

Chapter 7.8: The War Inside

  • A big part of the spiders’ assault plan was to put a biochemical weapon effective against the humans in their air ventilation system, which was working as expected 

Chapter 7.9: Last Stand

  • Lain and Holsten were the last survivors on the ship. Until Karst reached out over the radio and said he understood them all now

Chapter 7.10: The Quality of Mercy

  • The spiders heard but discounted Kern’s warning
    • They never partook in genocide and violence, or rather saw the value of everything to be used as tools for advancement
  • The spiders were able to isolate a part of the nano-virus and turn it into a single-use tool for mammals to rewrite a part of their programming/brains
    • It makes one know their comrades and form a society
    • To know one another even though they don’t know themselves
    • The goal of the new virus was to see kinship with the spiders and know them as their children
  • Bianca convinces Portia that their losses would be high against the humans, but it would be worth it because who knows what they could accomplish together
    • They were their parents who simply didn’t know them

Part 8: Diaspora

Chapter 8.1: To Boldly Go

  • Empathy conquers all in the end thanks to the virus and after a generation of caution
    • Technology also helped bridge the gap
  • Portia and Helen Lain-Holsten are setting off on a voyager ship to explore space, not to colonize
  • The people of the green planet set off to another message being sent off nearby, a sign of intelligence that they want to investigate

Closing thoughts:

I enjoyed this book and it was a very interesting read. I particularly liked how it followed the two different storylines, and also did a good job jumping forward in time. The plot covered vast amounts of time, and I think it did a good job keeping it cohesive while also conveying the passage of time.

One thing that bothered me just narrative-wise was how the humans were so adamant about attacking the planet and wasn’t even open to being diplomatic. But then again, the Dr. Kern satellite AI was very hostile, so it made sense to some extent to think that way. But I also understand that they needed to build tension and have stakes in order for a more satisfying climax to the story.

I also do like how they ended the story with both species eventually working together and further exploring the universe with their comp

One Takeaway / Putting into practice:

I think the one big takeaway I can get from this is pretty simple and straightfoward:

  • Empathy and compassion conquers all

Essentially, if they were more empathetic to each other, a lot of the conflict could have been avoided. But I guess we needed the story to happen in order for the lesson to stand out.


Two different civilizations in deep space learn of each other and prepare for a hostile encounter with each other. Eventually, they find out they have more in common than they originally thought.

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Rating: 3 out of 5.


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