I’m not a huge fan of anything Sci-Fi. I don’t know. I just couldn’t get myself into it. The book club tried previously with The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and I could barely get through the first two books. I was slightly apprehensive when Children of Time was one of the choices for the next book. But I wanted to give it a chance. I also found out that a lot of people gave it 5-star ratings so I was slightly optimistic.
I was not disappointed but I wouldn’t say I loved Children of Time. I enjoyed the overall plot of the book though it can be quite confusing since it was jumping between two sets of main characters. Plus, the time jumps and reincarnation of the spider characters had me a little confused in the middle of the book. Although I felt the plot was not super compelling, I found it really interesting how science and human emotions are entangled which reminded me of a lot of the best film of all time — Interstellar! (Interestingly, a movie that had a lot of time jumps too.)
Do smartness and badassery allow you to be an a**hole?
Two main things that irk me are the inherent arrogance of brilliant people and the reverse sexism demonstrated in this book.
“I will be everything. I will have the power of life and death over every member of the human race.”
Children of Time is littered with characters such as Avrana Kern and Guyen who are considered smart and innovative. These people not only spurred a rare chance to “help” save the human race from the destroyed earth, but also have shown great leadership that is needed to embark on such a life-changing mission. It almost says that people who truly change the world have so much confidence in themselves and their ideas. Therefore, it’s what paves their way to life-changing success. I’m sure many would see this as conviction and passion. But it really comes off as stubborn and arrogant here. Does this mean that the movers and shakers of the world have an excuse to be horrible humans?
“You are Mine, but you also belong to the universe, and your purpose is whatever you choose.”
Moreover, I feel that such arrogance and self-conviction could have also potentially led to the end of all species since everyone was so determined to have it their way that they could have killed both the spiders and humans in the end. The book is littered with characters who had the “my way or the highway” mentality which proven to be detrimental since they were too stubborn at times to empathize or learn from the other species. They let their ego get ahead of the main goal of a new home for the continuation of the living.
Problematic female portrayal
The other glaring aspect of Children of Time that bugged me throughout is the reverse racism. In the spider world, female spiders are the dominant species while the male are the submissive. Male spiders are to “dance” to attract their female counterparts to mate. Female spiders are portrayed as ruthless and (lack of a better description) masculine characteristics. I could potentially see this as a misogynistic man using this portrayal as why we don’t need feminism. I also felt like it was important to caution that the opposite of female sexualization and misogyny is not this reverse sexism.
Maybe I didn’t like it because it portrayed females in a negative way. I mean Sci-Fi (like every other genre) has a history of hyper sexualizing and portraying women negatively even in futuristic worlds. I thought they were supposed to be more advanced than this?
“A life lived entirely at the whim of another is no life at all.”
It was interesting to read about Portia and Fabian’s relationship where he both loved, admired and yet hated her.
For humans, I could possibly label Lain as the female badass character that I liked. Maybe because she was considered as strong and confident who actually made sure things got done. This is of course in comparison to the “weaker” Holsten. She is also the one who eventually managed to succeed in securing a new home for humans.
Spiders are actually cool
With my strong criticisms, it might not be apparent that I did enjoy this book. What I thoroughly enjoyed about the book is the portrayal of insects as this smart and advanced species. Even smarter and more advanced than humans. I haven’t read/watched many books/tv shows/films that featured insects as the main characters. I would be slightly disturbed honestly. But I really did enjoy the unique portrayal of the smart spiders and giving them humanistic personalities. They were these characters that were so cool and yet so flawed which almost makes them human in my opinion. The spider characters like Portia and Fabian definitely had better character development than any of the humans including Lain.
“Great Nest has no strict hierarchy. By human standards, in fact, spider society would appear something like functional anarchy.”
Any parts of Children of Time with the spiders were the ones I enjoyed the most. They were more exciting and had better plots in general. The storylines are also more complex and depth. They even talked about the structure and function of religion and hierarchy in society. Ants are considered inferior to spiders since “they have no inclination or capacity to consider the wider philosophy of life“. Religion brings order to an otherwise chaotic world and yet blinding faith to its meek followers who aren’t critical thinkers. I’m not sure if this is the cliche depiction of science versus religion but it was more thought-provoking than any human plot in Children of Time.
“Each temple translates the good news differently: interprets the words and co-opts them to fit with existing mental structures.”
I felt like this was sort of a commentary on religion in today’s society where sacred texts are interpreted differently by various groups of people which may lead to misunderstandings of the truth or too literal interpretation of the text itself
“Each one of us lives in constant fear that our usefulness will come to an end and that we will be replaced by some more elegant dancer, some new favourite, or that we will please too much and mate, and then be too slow to escape the throes of your passion.”
Consciousness and achieving immortality
I was also intrigued and slightly confused with the reincarnation of each spider character. This idea of reincarnation yet becoming more evolved versions of themselves was mind-blowing. It demonstrated the complexity of artificial intelligence and consciousness since these spiders were born out of Dr. Kern’s project of intelligent monkeys (but she got spiders instead).
There were multiple plots talking about consciousness. I could easily use this book as an example if I was taking the consciousness module in university. Besides reincarnation, human characters did try to upload themselves aka their consciousness on a supercomputer to achieve immortality. It definitely showcases the complexity of consciousness and essentially what makes up one’s consciousness.
All in all, if you do wish to explore sci-fi literature or are intrigued, I would recommend you read Children of Time. You would be going through the pages quickly especially towards the end. It definitely is a page-turner with an enthralling plot. But if you’re looking for a life-changing story, keep looking.