Children of Time (novel)

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Children of Time
First edition
AuthorAdrian Tchaikovsky
GenreScience fiction
PublisherTor UK
Publication date
2015 (hardcover)
Media typePrint (hardcover and paperback)
Followed byChildren of Ruin 

Children of Time is a 2015 science fiction novel by author Adrian Tchaikovsky. The novel follows the evolution of a civilization of genetically modified Portia labiata on a terraformed exoplanet, guided by an artificial intelligence based on the personality of one of the human terraformers of the planet.

The novel received positive reviews,[1] and won the 2016 Arthur C. Clarke Award for best science fiction novel.[2][3][4] The director of the award program praised the novel as having "universal scale and sense of wonder reminiscent of Clarke himself."[5]

The next in the series, Children of Ruin, was published in 2019. A third book, Children of Memory, was published in 2022.[6] In 2023, the series was awarded[a] the Hugo Award for Best Series.[8]


In the far future, Dr. Avrana Kern is the head of a science team orbiting a terraformed, previously uninhabitable exoplanet that she hopes will be named "Kern's World." The team is preparing to release a genetically designed nanovirus onto the new world to accelerate the evolution of a group of monkeys. There is talk of war stirring back home between authorities and multiple anti-technology factions opposed to this kind of genetic engineering, including a terrorist group or radical movement known as "non ultra natura" (nothing greater than nature).

Dr. Kern learns there is an agent of an anti-technology group aboard the ship about to overload the reactor, and she flees aboard an escape pod before anyone else can. The payload of monkeys is jettisoned from the ship in a landing craft but it burns up in atmospheric entry. With no monkeys on Kern's World, and its ecosystems originally seeded with a minimum of possible competitor species for Kern's experiment, the nanovirus spends its time infecting and altering a multitude of living creatures, a notable example being jumping spiders (Portia labiata)—referred to in the book as Portiids. Dr. Avrana Kern is left stranded in orbit awaiting rescue, periodically waking from stasis, troubled by the sudden cessation of radio signals bleeding out from humanity's home.

Many millennia pass, and civilization reemerges on Earth from the hunter-gathering descendants of survivors, eventually salvaging machinery leftover from Kern's time, which is only known as the Old Empire. Faced with the slow collapse of Earth's biosphere due to the long-delayed consequences of the ancient war, the last remnants of humanity are en route to Kern's World aboard the starship Gilgamesh, hoping for a paradisiacal planet and ignorant of the uplifted Portiid spiders. Confronting Dr. Avrana Kern in orbit, powerful and rendered crazed and xenophobic by the millennia, the Gilgamesh takes a centuries-long detour to a neighboring system that proves uninhabitable. The novel plays off the contrast between the rapid advancement of the spiders' societies and the descent of the crew of last humans into strife and barbarism, primarily seen through the eyes of the Gilgamesh's chief classicist, Holsten Mason.

After the Gilgamesh returns to Kern's World, the two narratives collide, seemingly dooming one or both sides to extinction. The Portiids, on the other hand, devise a strategy that saves both their world and the invaders, uniting with and inviting the last humans to live with them on Kern's World, drawing on past genetic memories, known as "Understandings," which showed collaboration was the better option in the end.


Old Empire[edit]

Dr. Avrana Kern[edit]

The Old Empire's only known survivor; a cynical, egotistic woman aiming to "beget new sentient life" in the image of humanity. She survives the destruction of her ship and spends millennia in suspended animation inside an observation satellite, orbiting the only world she was able to seed with the gene-editing nanovirus while it works wonders on the animal population below. Unstrung by millennia of isolation and mechanical and biological degradation, she xenophobically denies the humanity of the crew of the starship Gilgamesh and what they assume to be their main threat until the starship returns to her world centuries later.

Gilgamesh Key Crew[edit]

Commander Guyen[edit]

The leader of the Gilgamesh, Guyen often exercises autocratic authority over the expedition and its sleeping human cargo. Guyen leads the ark ship to another terraformed world after Kern forces his hand and discovers experimental Old Empire technology capable of uploading a human mind to a sufficiently complex computer. He eventually devotes himself to a new quixotic purpose: uploading his mind to the Gilgamesh computer, as a means of establishing firmer control over the ship itself before returning to Kern's World.

Holsten [edit]

Chief classicist of the starship Gilgamesh, he is charged with translating a prominent Old Empire language—“Imperial C.” Holsten's primary responsibility is to help the ark ship navigate the unknown territories and technologies of the Old Empire. However, he eventually embraces a higher mission: establishing a new cultural heritage for humanity based upon the historical narrative through which he lived while aboard the Gilgamesh.


The Gilgamesh chief engineer and its eventual de facto leader, Lain is frequently forced to hold the ark ship together in the face of near-insurmountable mechanical breakdown. Sacrificing decades of her life guiding and preserving “the tribe”—primarily descendants of engineering; initially Lain's anti-Guyen faction—and the vessel itself, she becomes the spiritual leader of Gilgamesh's ship-born generations. If Guyen is the villain in Holsten's historical narrative, Lain is unquestionably the heroine.


The chief science officer of the Gilgamesh and a staunch adherent of professional objectivity, Vitas is more than capable of notable research. However, her ambitious scientific curiosity, deference to precedent, and, ultimately, personal insecurity frequently lead her astray. Holsten sees her as almost robotic and uncannily ageless.


The Gilgamesh chief of security. Though flamboyantly blunt, Karst demonstrates himself as a cautious leader by restricting weapons access during the ark ship's internal conflicts. Initially intimidated by the gruff gunslinger, by the end of the novel, Holsten eventually comes to respect Karst, who appears to have a heroic, albeit vulnerable, quality.


The novel spans thousands of years and multiple generations of Portiid spiders. The spiders each have their own identities, lives, and experiences, on top of their genetic memories called "Understandings," although the narrative refers to its main and supporting characters by four different names based on distinct personalities or historical archetypes.


Female spider; warrior, priestess, leader. Usually the main viewpoint female.


Female spider; warrior, scientist, leader, genius. Main supporting female.


Male spider; scientist, rebel, genius, leader. Main supporting male, becomes the main viewpoint for the spiders' seventh story.


Female spider; scientist, leader. Another main viewpoint female.

Film adaptation[edit]

In July 2017, the rights were optioned for a potential film adaptation.[9]


  1. ^ Tchaikovsky has since disavowed the win due to the subsequent ballot controversy.[7]


  1. ^ Lovegrove, James (July 3, 2015). "'Children of Time', by Adrian Tchaikovsky". Nikkei Inc. Archived from the original on May 4, 2017. Retrieved May 3, 2017.
  2. ^ "The Arthur C. Clarke Award". The Arthur C. Clarke Award. Retrieved 2022-10-11.
  3. ^ "Adrian Tchaikovsky wins Arthur C Clarke Award for science fiction". British Broadcasting Corporation. August 25, 2016. Archived from the original on October 17, 2016. Retrieved May 3, 2017.
  4. ^ Anders, Charlie Jane (April 27, 2016). "The Clarke Award Shortlist Includes Some Great Surprises". Gizmodo. Gizmodo Media Group / Univision. Archived from the original on March 19, 2017. Retrieved May 3, 2017.
  5. ^ Flood, Alison (August 24, 2016). "Arthur C Clarke award goes to Adrian Tchaikovsky's novel of 'universal scale'". The Guardian. Guardian News and Media. Archived from the original on May 10, 2017. Retrieved May 3, 2017.
  6. ^ " Adrian Tchaikovsky Continues His Epic Series With Children of Memory". June 22, 2022.
  7. ^ Tchaikovsky, Adrian. "A Statement on the 2023 Hugo Awards". Archived from the original on 2024-02-21. Retrieved 2024-02-21.
  8. ^ "The 2023 Hugo Award Winners Are Here". Gizmodo. 2023-10-24. Retrieved 2024-02-21.
  9. ^ Cowdrey, Katherine (July 19, 2017). "Pan Mac's Children of Time optioned for film". The Bookseller. Bookseller Media Ltd.

External links[edit]