First published: 2015
Author: Adrian Tchaikovsky
Synopsis: A race for survival among the stars… Humanity’s last survivors escaped earth’s ruins to find a new home. But when they find it, can their desperation overcome it’s dangers? 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?
I unfortunately did not like this and the main reason was that it was unbelievable. It played fast and loose with science in a way that I couldn’t swallow. Obviously, playing fast and loose with science, or at least with science as we understand it, is a steeple of science-fiction, but the way it was done in this book didn’t agree with me. But first let’s talk about some good aspects.
I thought the writing itself was good. It was a well written book for the most part. I do think there were some weak points, not so much in style as in the way that it portrayed some of the characters. I will talk about this more later, in the spoilery section of this review. I’ve decided to keep everything in one review, instead of making a separate discussion post, but I will first get the spoiler free out of the way.
The pacing, I struggled with a little, not that it was necessarily bad… but I was expecting more of a thriller. Based on the synopsis, I was expecting something different, more actiony. So when that expectation wasn’t met, it just kind of put me off, which also contributed to my inability to enjoy this. I think it just came down to a bad synopsis. Though I do get that it’s kind of difficult to write a synopsis for this book without spoiling anything.
I couldn’t really connect to the characters. I didn’t care that much about them, whether they were human or non-human. I vaguely cared about one of them, but even with her, I was just meh. I felt a general disconnect from the story. A huge part of this was the “science”. It was very unbelievable in my opinion, I did not buy it. Science fiction obviously speculates about science-related stuff, but as I mentioned, I didn’t like how this book went about it. There has to remain an element of plausibility. And the thing is, the more rigorously scientific you try to be, the harder that plausibility is to preserve. What I mean is that if you write about something like space-travel (which this book does, but that’s not what I had an issue with) or teleportation or black holes, it’s much easier to seem plausible because we don’t have a ton of concrete information about it. So it’s easy to buy that 10,000 years from now, we will have space ships able to travel long distances into space, or that we will have cured cancer, or that we’ll be able to place ourselves in a kind of stasis or stuff like that. But if you write about something we currently have a decent understanding of, at least at a basic level, you can’t change it and still be believable. And in my opinion, this is what this book did and it took out of the story.
Also, another thing that took me out of the story because it just didn’t seem believable to me, was the way the non-human characters were written. There seems to be so much emphasis in the book that they are not human and therefore they think in completely different ways. But at the same time, they were very antropomorphised. They thought and acted like… well like a human trying to imagine what something as far removed from human as possible would think. And it was very jarring. I realise that the author of this book is human. But then he shouldn’t have attempted something like this if he can’t pull it off.
And with that, I think I’m going to move into the spoilery section. So from now on, read at your own peril.
Let’s start with my main issue. As you may or may not know, I’m a Geneticist. This book attempts to imagine a world where spiders evolve as the dominant species. So the premise is that humans are super advanced and have spread out in space, have terraformed a bunch of planets and one of these is set up as an experiment. They’ve somehow engineered some magic virus thing that somehow influences selection and therefore speeds up evolution. And this scientist infected a bunch of monkeys with the virus and planned to set them free on a new terraformed planet and watch new humans evolve. Which okay… a bit iffy with the magic virus. Not really sure how that would work, but acceptable for speculative fiction. But things go wrong, humans start a war that ultimately leads to their near extinction, all her moneys die and the only survivors are invertebrates which somehow also got infected with the magic virus. The scientist also survives in a satellite that was meant as an observation station for her experiment.
So the story focuses on portia labiata, a species of jumping spider, which is infected with the virus. As far as spiders go, these are pretty cute. A quick google search has told me that the author is a zoologist, which kind of makes me question his choices even more.
The way his spiders evolved and his magic virus worked was very Lamarckian. Everyone has heard of Darwin, but what a lot of people probably aren’t aware of is that his was not the only theory of evolution going around back in the day. there was this other guy, Lamarck, who thought that learned or acquired traits were passed on from parents to offspring. For example, he proposed that in areas with very tall trees, giraffes have longer necks because they stretch out to get to the leaves and as a result their necks stretch out. which might be the case at least to a small extent. But he proposed that these elongated giraffes then passed their long necks to their offspring. Which is a theory that has been disproved. That’s not how traits are inherited. We don’t inherit what out parents have learnt or the physical attributes they’ve acquired (a weightlifter’s baby isn’t born with super buff muscles). The reason I’m explaining this is that… in this story, the magic virus somehow made it that the spiders were able to genetically transmit their knowledge???? It even got to the point where they were able to distill??? Their DNA knowledge… and drink it???? To learn stuff???? I found this so implausible. I don’t even know how to express my frustration with this. It tried so hard to sound… very scientific. But it gave no detail about how this magic virus worked to basically alter how genetics works. In fact, there was very little detail about any of the sciency stuff. But it was made to seem like there was detail. I don’t know if that makes sense. But basically, things were explained without actually being explained. It’s like if someone tried to explain something they didn’t understand, but they wanted you to think that they know what they’re talking about. It was so frustrating for me to read. It would have been better if there was no explanation at all.
Another thing that I was very confused about was…. how did the spiders know what the scientific name of their species was???? And why did they all have human names. One of the spiders we follow is Portia… because she’s a descendant of portia labiata. Or rather, we follow a whole bunch of different Portias throughout the evolution of the spider species. But they just kind of merge together into one Portia. There’s also a series of Biancas and Violas and Fabiens. Why do these spiders have human names???? They can’t even speak with voices. They communicate through vibrations and sign language. How would they name themselves names like this, that are primarily auditory? Their names would be like… Stamp Wiggle Wave. Or Tremor Extended Foreleg. Or something that makes sense with the way that they communicate. The reason we have names like we do is because we primarily communicate verbally. I know it’s a little thing, but it bothered me so much.
One of the points this books is trying so hard to make is that there is nothing special about humans besides a fluke of evolution and that something very different from humans might have evolved instead. But it then proceeds to write about a civilisation of giant spiders that pretty much follow the patterns of human history and the issues that human society has faced and continues to face. Things like gender equality and religion and technology. It just makes me cringe just thinking about it. Because it’s almost like “Hmmm… how can I talk about these things in a new, interesting way? Oh, I know! GIANT SUPER SMART SPIDERS WHICH ARE EXACTLY LIKE PEOPLE BUT WE’LL PRETEND THEY’RE NOT!” But then of course in the end, they’re better than the humans because instead of killing the humans, they seek out harmonious living.
There are honestly so many other things I could pick on, but I’m getting really frustrated writing this. I’m not even sure why it makes me so mad, but I just got so frustrated with this book. Part of me doesn’t even want to give it 2 stars. But then it does have some merits, so I can’t really give it 1 star. But man, just so frustrated.