Children of Time

Adrian Tchaikovsky
Children of Time Cover

bloated scientific bullshit



5. The main thing. The bale that broke the camel's back. THE BIOLOGY OF THIS BOOK IS TOTAL AND UTTER BALONEY.

Nanoviruses -- yeah, right, *nano*-virus -- could truly be programmed to enhance evolution in specific ways. They could truly start working on DNA in such a way that their hosts become better, faster, stronger, smarter. That's how biochemical molecular processes in cells work! Tchaikovsky knows! He has a zoology degree! Who knows what stuff we'll invent in a couple of centuries!?

But it's not just that. The spiders manage to exploit said virus and use it to virally gift DNA that carries memories and knowledge via "mental pathways". It's the hard scientific biological backbone that Dune was always missing!

"Mental pathways can be transcribed, reduced to genetic information, unpacked in the offspring and written as instinctive understanding -- sometimes concrete skills and muscle memory, but more ofte whole tranches of knowledge, ragged-edged with loss of context, that the new-born will slowly come to terms with throughout its early life."

This DNA is consciously distilled and then gifted to other spiders via packages of sperm.

"Portia's male scuttles onto the web and distils his Understanding of aphid husbandry into a neatly silk-wrapped packet of sperm."

But who cares about male spider knowledge anyhow? They are just unimportant underlings on that distant space planet. So I'm guessing the smartsy females can do something similar and distil their knowledge in "silk-wrapped" eggs? How do they share this knowledge with others, aside via their own offspring? If they can't share it laterally, why is it such a big deal? I have no idea.

Oh, yeah, right, later in the book they manage to just drink "distilled Understanding" and then "the nanovirus she has just ingested begins to fit the purloined knowledge into place within her own mind, accessing the structure of her brain and copying in the male's memories." But it's still male sperm in the instance from which I quoted this? Anyone? Help me?

And mind you: this mind-blowing feat of biotechnology is discovered in the beginning of the book, early in the spiders' evolutionary arc, before they manage tool use, writing, microscopy, and other big scientific breakthroughs.

It gets even crazier: the spiders use ant colonies as a kind of giant abacus to sequence DNA "from biopsy samples". I don't make this up. Tchaikovsky's imagination was on fire!!

Also: the virus is woke. "There is a place in her mind where the nanovirus lurks and it tells her that all her species are kin, are like her in a way that other creatures are not, and yet the weight of society crushes its voice." Tchaikovsky doesn't seem to be able to make up his mind re: the metaphors he uses. Does the virus actually have agency? Or is it just a blind molecular process? I'm guessing the latter, but why write about it as something that has volition? To confuse readers? To make it more literary? To emulate the mythical spider mindset? All of the above!?

What else is hot in biology? Pheromones! Some of these spiders have some mad chemistry skills: a certain Fabian manages to somehow instantly concoct a chemical brew that specifically brings some ants "to the silk side of his chamber, where they cut a neat exit wound for him to depart through. After they are done, he resets them". How could I forget? Spiders have trouble with their own webbing and Fabian couldn't have cut that wound himself! Then again, I don't have a zoology degree!


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