#REVIEW: CHILDREN OF TIME, by Adrian Tchaikovsky

It is hyperbole, but only by a little bit, to state that I have hated every second of 2019. I won’t go into the details; if you’ve been reading here for a while and especially if you follow me on Patreon you know a lot of them by now, but this has been the single worst year of my life by a wide margin and there are still four fucking months of it left.

The one shining bright spot of 2019 has been the books I’ve been reading. Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Children of Time was number ninety, I believe, and it is the book that convinced me that my traditional end-of-year top 10 list is probably going to have to be pushed to fifteen this year. It was effectively a random buy; we took my son to Barnes and Noble to spend some money on him for his birthday and it jumped off the shelf at me. I will own the sequel by the end of the weekend.

Children of Time is a post-apocalyptic, more or less post-human novel set in two places: a green planet far from Earth and an ancient, decaying generation ship containing what are, as far as the occupants know, the last few thousand members of the human race. It takes place over centuries if not actual millennia– the time scale is kept fuzzy, and the human characters’ ability to put themselves into cryogenic storage until the next event that causes them to need to wake up allows the timeline to be pushed well beyond the human lifespan. At the very beginning, a human scientist attempts to seed the green planet with primate life and with a nanovirus that will tailor their evolution over the years to produce sentient life on the level of human beings. Something goes terribly wrong, and the proto-primates are lost, but the nanovirus is not … and it settles into a species of spider instead. The book tells two parallel stories: the slow evolution of the spider species and their eventual rise to supremacy on their planet, a story that takes place over many generations and thus has many different “main” characters for each part of the book, most of whom are named “Portia,” basically for narrative convenience, and the remaining humans on a generation ship called the Gilgamesh, a cultural reference they have long since forgotten the meaning of. Eventually, the two discover each other’s existence, and while there is conflict, it doesn’t work out the way you think it will, and the final resolution was so simple and elegant that it blew me away.

It is– and this is the entire review, so pay attention– one of the most fantastically inventive things I have ever read. That should be clear just from the plot summary, right? You already know you need to read this book, and you should go get it right now and get started. I know, I know, I’m prone to hyperbole, I start the review off with hyperbole and I mention my tendency toward hyperbole in damn near every positive review I write. But this book is really something special, y’all. You owe it to yourself to read it.

Anyone watching this?

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I haven’t heard any buzz about this program at all, and only found out about it because I was scrolling through Netflix menus pretty much at random– any of you Netflix folks watching 3%?   We’re only three episodes in, so consider this a conditional recommendation, but so far my lovely wife and I are both finding the show to be pretty compelling science fiction.  The disadvantage: it’s dubbed from Portuguese, so when I say things like “the acting is good,” which is a thing I’d say about this show, what I basically mean is that the actors look like they’re acting well, and the English speakers they’ve hired to overdub their voices usually don’t suck that much.

The premise, so far:  it is The Future, and The Future appears to really suck for everyone who lives in what I assume is still called Brazil.  Each year everyone who turns 20 is eligible to take a series of tests that only the titular 3% will pass.  Those who pass are able to go to “the Offshore,” which…

…well, none of them seem to know what the Offshore is, they just really really hope it’s better than the shit dystopia they live in now, and no scenes have been set in the Offshore yet, so the viewers don’t have any idea either.  So, really Hunger Gamesy, but done pretty well.  Three episodes in, we’re still all testing, and the tests have been varied and interesting enough to keep us watching.  If this is what the entire first season is about, it might be a problem, but so far?  So good.

Anybody else watching this?  If not, anybody want to start so I have someone to talk to about it?

In which bustin’ makes me feel good

aw3snei4begajpjm8agh… which, holy shit, that’s a double entendre, isn’t it?  And it took me 32 years to notice it?  Okay, now my childhood’s ruined.

Here’s the clearest indication that I enjoyed Ghostbusters: the main characters’ names are Abby Yates, Erin Gilbert, Jillian Holtzmann, and Patty Tolan.  The receptionist’s name is Kevin, and I don’t think he had a last name.

I need you to understand this about me: I don’t remember the names of fictional people.  I can read entire books and be able to describe the plot in close detail and have trouble recalling the main character’s name.  I can almost never remember the names of any of the leads of movies.  And I know all five of the major characters in this film.  First and last names.  That’s freaking amazing.  It shouldn’t be the case, but it is.

I didn’t initially want to see Ghostbusters, not because I thought it would Destroy my Childhood– that’s not a real thing– but because I thought it was an unnecessary remake.  The first film is sacred to me, but its sacrality has not led to me seeing the second film more than perhaps twice, so I can’t really pretend I have any loyalty to the franchise.  And there are no Marvel superheroes in this movie, so ignoring it would be well within my established prior practice.  Then I looked around and decided I’d rather change my mind than be on the same side of some of the people who agreed with me about not seeing it, and then I laughed my ass off at the first trailer.  And then I saw the movie on opening night, a thing I haven’t done in, literally, years.

This movie’s funny as hell and you should watch it.   If Kate McKinnon isn’t the funniest motherfucker alive– can I call a woman that?  What if she’s gay?– I don’t know who it is, and Leslie Jones is funny as fuck too.  Also notable is Chris Hemsworth’s performance; I’ve enjoyed his Thor but I seriously had no idea that the guy could be as funny as he is in this movie.

You may have noticed that I haven’t mentioned the putative leads yet, Melissa McCarthy and Kristen Wiig.  I know little about Wiig, but I’ve seen McCarthy in other stuff and she has annoyed me.  Honestly, I thought the two of them were among the weaker bits of the movie.  They have their moments, certainly, but they don’t do “smart” as well as McKinnon does– she is the perfect mad scientist– and many of McCarthy’s lines in particular read like the kind of dialogue that dumb people write for smart people to say.  “You did not disclose that the vehicle in question would be a hearse!” or whatever it was, for example.  Wiig forgets that she’s supposed to be a physicist about fifteen minutes into the movie and there’s no real need for her to remember it since someone has to be the straight woman and be the butt of all the ghost-vomit jokes.  I didn’t dislike her, but she’s not a reason to see the movie.

I do find myself wishing that Patty could have been an academic– either also or maybe flip her role with one of the other women.  I think the idea of a Ph.D candidate in New York history working for the MTA could have worked, for example.  But Patty is a fun character and the Sassy Black Woman stereotype we were all worried about is dialed back about as far as it can go.

Interestingly, this film shares its biggest flaw with Star Wars: The Force Awakens.  TFA’s worst moments all involved the characters from the original trilogy.  Similarly, Ghostbusters is at its worst when it’s trying to remind us that all of the actors from the original films (except for Rick Moranis, who quit acting years ago) supported the project.  Other than the nice touch of putting a bust of Harold Ramis outside Erin Gilbert’s office, the only cameo that wasn’t insanely distracting was Annie Potts.  Murray and Aykroyd, in particular, brought the movie to a screeching halt the three times they were on screen.  And then once you realize what’s going on, and that they’re all gonna show up, you spend the movie watching for the next one, and it’s distracting as hell.

Other than that, though, and Paul Feig’s moderately annoying habit of cutting to Kate McKinnon’s or Leslie Jones’s reaction to every line someone else says (make it part of the drinking game) it’s a hell of a movie.  The villain is interesting– he’s basically a GamerGater who has lucked into some supernatural physics– the effects are fun, and some of the shit they get up to with the proton packs and the other weapons Holtzmann comes up with are awesome fun.  There’s a great stinger at the end of the movie, too, even if the film should have ended with the line “I love this town!” like the first one did.

(Yes, I know what I just said about the first movie.  But they set up that line and then don’t deliver it.  They shoulda, dammit.)

Also, this:

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I wanna marry Kate McKinnon, guys.  I know; I’m married and she’s gay.  Realistically, though, if you think about it, neither of those two things really have much of any effect on my chances, so I figure I’m free to dream on that point.  Then again, I’ve never seen her in anything other than this movie, so maybe it’s the possibly-straight-but-I-doubt-it Jillian Holtzmann who I want to marry.  She’s not real.  That doesn’t affect my chances much either, I guess.

This movie is funny and you will like it so go see it.

The end.

Christmas books!

Know someone who would love an autographed science fiction book for Christmas? Did you know you can order autographed books directly from me?

(There’s two weeks until Christmas.  Order by a week from today– let’s call that the 18th– to come closest to ensuring pre-Christmas delivery.  I make no guarantees on timing one way or another.)

The books are priced a bit cheaper than you can get them on Amazon, shipping and handling are $4.  If you want them shipped faster than that or shipped outside the lower 48, email me and we’ll work something out.  Make sure to include who you want the books made out to and if there’s a special note you’d like included.

Sale goes until I run out of stuff to send.  SKYLIGHTS and SANCTUM are not in danger of a sell-out but I only have a handful of copies of BENEVOLENCE ARCHIVES.  MALUMBA is not included in this because I have no copies on hand and can’t get more from CreateSpace in time for Christmas; if you don’t particularly care about the Christmas part, again, email me.


SKYLIGHTS:  $12.00 USD  

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THE SANCTUM OF THE SPHERE: $12.00 USD

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SKYLIGHTS and SANCTUM: $20.00 USD

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THE BENEVOLENCE ARCHIVES, VOL. 1: $7.00 USD

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Comics!

Just for the heck of it, I posted a list of the comics I bought this week over at Sourcerer.  Go check it out and let me know if anything else came out today I should buy.