I could spend a long time telling you why I think science fiction (and fantasy) can be part of a nutritious literary diet. But instead I’m going to
MELT INTO A PUDDLE OF OVERWHELMED JOY AT HOW MAGNIFICENTASTICALLY GOOD
the book, pictured above, is.
It just won the Arthur C Clarke Award for Science Fiction Literature. That’s a Big Deal in the SFF world. And well-deserved, in this case.
I don’t want to give away the important stuff, as much as I would love to discuss every facet of this book with someone. Suffice to say that it:
- Isn’t space opera in the sense of “Gashak-Zagrod must lead the Mecha Suits into battle against the Empire of One Thousand Painted Eyes in order to stop the Monks that lead the Empire from deploying the Amadeus Engine and ripping apart the fabric of the Kalmekaskajdkajsj System.”
- Features human characters who feel, for the most part, real. Dirty mouths and grim humour and all. (This can be hard to find, sometimes)
- Features spider characters, who also dabble in grim humour.
Yes. I said spider characters.
Spiders turn up pretty early on, so this isn’t really a spoiler. And I hope it won’t put off anyone reading this. Spiders are amazing – both the ones we share our planet with, and the ones in this book. That just happen to be super-evolved intelligent sentient beings because of an accident involving an engineered nano-virus.
Once I’d slotted the spiders into my expectations about how the plot would spin out, I enjoyed having my expectations thoroughly broken apart. I thought I’d essentially end up reading about humans in spider costumes. But Tchaikovsky sticks to his science guns, his spiders uncompromisingly spidery, even while there are (sometimes inverted) points of commonality. This nascent civilisation must grapple with a heritage of female-favouring sexual dimorphism, for example; the very opposite of our own human struggle.
And – here I again fight the urge to spoil the juicy stuff – as Tchaikovsky notes more than once, spiders are actually already very nicely designed for space-faring, far better adapted to three dimensions than us apes.
The spiders are only half the story, though. The other half is a scrap of the human race, desperately searching for a home. Oh, and there’s also a third party involved in this book, a complexity unto herself. And I wanted to take everyone’s side by the end. It was agonising, frankly.
I salute Tchaikovsky’s masterful imagination.
P.S. I do really, really want to discuss this book with someone. If you’re in London, drop me a line and I’ll lend you the book!
Look how cute they are.