Published by: Pan Macmillan
Publication Date: 21st April 2016 (First published June 2015)
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?
The blurb does not do justice to this book. It is marvellous.
Dr Avrana Kern has led the terraforming projects in a far off solar system, hoping to seed the planet in question, Kern’s World, with monkeys and a nanovirus that will help them advance. Unfortunately, things go wrong. The monkeys burn up in the atmosphere, but the nanovirus survives and finds a new host. Portiid spiders and other insects.
Several thousand years later.
The ark ship Gilgamesh has left earth, the crew have been asleep for one thousand eight hunded and thirty-seven years when the commander Guyen wakes key crew members, including head of security, Karst, chief engineer Lain and historian, Holsten. They have found a planet, a green planet. Transmissions are coming from a small satellite around the planet, but Guyen can’t understand them. Holsten, with some work, can. The satellite is the Second Brin Sentry Habitat, home to Dr Avrana Kern, and it is broadcasting a distress signal. They respond, amazed at proof of ‘Old Empire’ technology and terraforming projects long thought to be myths.
Kern is not happy with them. Half mad and jealously protective of her project, she threatens them with complete destruction. Backing off, Guyen considers the long plan. They send drones down to the planet for a closer look at the place, they hope, will be their new home. Kern destroys all but one of the drones, and that gets a view that nobody quite believes.
On Kern’s World, the nanovirus has made a home in insects, especially the Portiid spiders. The forced evolution has produced a large spider with complex thought patterns and a social structure to match. They develop farming and co-opt ants after a war, developing chemical warfare and eventually radio technology. They make contact with Kern after several generations of only receiving her maths problems. Throughout the generations the many Portias, Biancas and Fabians, innovate, lead and fight for their species.
I really enjoyed this book. It managed to make giant spiders sympathetic. Giant spiders, I tell you! I found Tchikovsky’s depictions of the complex society of the Portiids, with it’s inversions of historical human norms – the females are ‘natural leaders’, the males are ‘decorative’ – and the evolution of their culture, science and engineering absolutely intriguing. It was intelligently written and easy to read. The human relationships and the tale of the Gilgamesh were as interesting, but I really found the evolution of the spiders of Kern’s World the most interesting. Their solution to the problem of the arriving humans is more sensible than either Kern or the crew of the Gilgamesh come up with.
I read three quarters of the 593 pages yesterday, i was completely immersed in the world and only surfaced again when I finished. I felt bereft, I need something equally gripping to read now.
I definitely recommend this book, even if you aren’t into sci-fi.