Children of Memory by Adrian Tchaikovsky
Pan Macmillan, HB, £16.59
Reviewed by Sarah Deeming
Liff’s grandfather was the captain of the ark spaceship Enkidu, one of the large ships that carried thousands of people from Earth when the planet died. The ship travelled for centuries before reaching Imir, a world barely capable of supporting life, but the ship was failing, and the crew had no choice but to land. By the time Liff is born, the community on Imir has scratched out a meagre existence on the planet. Life is tough and getting harder. Things are made worse by the residents losing their memories of past events, creating the rumour other people on the planet want to harm the settlers. Suspicion falls on Maria, Liff’s teacher, who has come from a farm far from the main town. Maria and Liff must uncover the truth of the missing memories before it is too late for the colony.
Book 3 of The Children of Time series starts with the crew of an ark ship waking up to their worst-case scenario. The planet they had travelled for years to reach wasn’t the Eden they were hoping for, and their ship could not go any further. The crew are beset with impossible decisions from where to land to who; of their fifty thousand sleeping souls on board, they wake up. Imir shows signs of some of the original terraformers who had left Earth to pave the way for future generations, but not enough change has happened. It is a grim start that sets the tone for the rest of the book.
By the time we met Liff, generations had passed, and the colony had reverted to a farming community with limited technology and plenty of Middle-Age superstitions. The world-building is perfect; it’s easy to believe the community had regressed because their equipment was so faulty when they arrived. Liff believes that a witch lives in the forest near her house and in the Seccers, a secretive second colony whom no one has ever seen, but is blamed for all the wrongs befalling her home town because it is easier to blame a faceless other than admit your neighbours are robbing you.
My only complaint with the story is in the middle, where Maria’s background is revealed. She is an outsider, a visitor from another planet, but she isn’t responsible for what’s happening on Imir. We don’t follow Maria’s path chronologically. There are vague timescales at the start of each section, like Not Long Ago or Long Ago, but these didn’t help me easily slot each event in a timescale. I had to reread parts to put the jigsaw together. Time is a very fluid concept in this book. However, I persevered, and everything made perfect sense by the end. Children of Memory is a book that definitely warrants a second read.
Children of Memory is the third book in a series, and while it’s always good to read what’s gone before to understand the subtleties you might otherwise have missed, it’s not essential in this case. The start of the book has an excellent and detailed prologue that explains how certain species, spiders, octopuses, humans and a particular microbe, have all achieved a heightened self-awareness and outstripped their predecessors. This is repeated within the book with a new species of ravens called Corvids, and there is much speculation about whether the Corvids are self-aware, which is a major theme for the book – what classes as self-awareness, and what can achieve it.
Children of Time is another masterpiece from Adrian Tchaikovksy, blending and bending genres to create something impossible to define. There are enough riddles and surprises to keep you guessing until the end, and I loved the blend of the indomitable human spirit overcoming all odds juxtaposing our reliance on technology that will ultimately be our downfall. Highly recommended.