Children of Time Summary & Study Guide

Adrian Tchaikovsky
This Study Guide consists of approximately 81 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of Children of Time.
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Children of Time Summary & Study Guide Description

Children of Time Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Quotes and a Free Quiz on Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky.

The following version of this novel was used to create this study guide: Tchaikovsky, Adrian. Children of Time. Orbit Hachette Book Group, 2015. First U.S. Paperback Edition (2018).

The novel itself is split into two stories that alternate from chapter to chapter. For this plot summary, each section will be split into the human story and the spider story for simplicity. The exact structure of the novel will be in the individual summaries as well as the structure section.

The novel begins on the ship called Brin 2 where Avarna Kern looks over a green planet that she secretly calls Kern’s World. As she gives a speech to her crew about their success, she thinks of this project as the culmination of all of her hard work. Kern’s World, along with many other planets, are part of a terraforming project that will allow humans to colonize outside of earth. For Kern, however, her planet is an experiment on life and evolution as she plans to release a barrel of monkeys alongside an advanced nano-virus to see if they can evolve intelligence like humans. She tells the others it is to create a species that is subservient to future colonist, but she cares the most about her experiment. However, as she prepares to release the monkeys and a Sentry Pod that will orbit and observe the planet for a year, a man named Sterling meant to ride the pod starts a conversation from the engine room. There, he reveals that he is an agent of a group called the NUNs who believe that the only life in the galaxy should be on earth and despise Kern’s idea to create a new species. Unable to save her crew, Kern rushes to the Sentry Pod and releases it and her experiment. However, due to Sterling’s meddling, the monkeys burn up in the atmosphere and the ship is destroyed. Kern uploads a part of her brain into the Pod’s systems and sets a distress signal which she knows will not be answered for at least 40 years. The AI of the pod, named Eliza, puts Kern into cryo sleep.

However, 14 years later, Kern is awakened to learn that an electronic signal wiped out every device in the known galaxy and that all transmissions from earth have gone silent. Eliza tells Kern that they survived because of Kern’s upload which made them immune to the signal. However, this means that Kern is trapped in the sentry pod for an unknown amount of time. Lamenting the failure of her experiment and the senseless violence on earth, Kern tells Eliza to wake her up when she feels she needs to, which Eliza agrees to. However, unbeknownst to Kern, the nanovirus survived the fall to the planet and has begun the process of evolution in a species of spider with the very first spider, Portia, laying the first, nanovirus-infected eggs that the narrator says will grow and take the world for themselves.

2,000 years later, a classicist named Holsten Mason is awakened by an engineer named Isa Lain because they have intercepted an unknown signal. He is taken to the ship’s commander Vrie Guyen who asks Holsten to translate it. After some time, Holsten recognizes it as a distress signal from the Old Empire coming from the exact location that their old star maps said an inhabitable planet would be. Thrilled, Guyen says they will all return to cryo sleep until they arrive at the planet. Holsten and Lain stay awake longer and end up sleeping together before going back to their cryo pods. Two years later, Holsten is awakened again alongside all of the Key Crew. Guyen informs them of the planet they have reached, explaining that it is a terraforming project of the Old Empire and meant to be their home. While the other crew are skeptical, Holsten confirms that there is proof of these projects and Guyen says they must approach the planet. Holsten then works with Lain to try and decipher the signal. Holsten knows the language, but cannot figure out what response the signal wants to speak with them. As they work to figure it out, Holsten realizes the signal is bouncing off of the planet itself, implying that there may be life on the planet. At Lain’s request, Holsten sends the same distress back out which silences the signal.

On Kern’s World - referred to as the green planet by the humans - a new generation of Portia travels with her friend Bianca and an unnamed male outside of their territory in search of information. The nanovirus has evolved both the physical and intellectual aspects of the spiders, leading to the creation of a concept the spiders call Understanding. This Understanding is a valuable currency that, once learned, is transferred to their children, building on itself over multiple generations. After some time, Portia’s group arrives at a small nest and offer to exchange Understanding of aphids - a creature they have domesticated to make honeydew - in exchange for information of the land beyond the nest. After Bianca fights the leader for dominance, with Portia’s handmade slingshot for help, a second spider agrees to the trade. They learn that the nest’s neighbors are very aggressive, and Portia decides to investigate herself as they may be a threat to her home, the Great Nest. They travel into the ant’s colony and learn about their weaponry and the way the colony is created. Eventually, Portia finds an unknown crystal and steals it, unknowingly stealing the eye of the ant’s god.

Meanwhile on the Gilgamesh, Holsten begins to transmit back and forth with an AI named Eliza. However, he quickly realizes that there is a second, more erratic transmission alongside Eliza which seems confused as to where she is or what is happening to her. Eliza tells them they are not welcome on the planet before Kern herself takes over the Gilgamesh’s systems and appears on their screen. She tells them that she will not allow them to disrupt her experiment, calling them a worse type of monkeys. She offers to send them to another planet which Guyen begrudgingly agrees to. Once Kern leaves the Gilgamesh, Karst reveals images he got of the planet surface when his drone is killed by a massive spider, even though Kern told them she was experimenting on monkeys.

Generations later, a new Portia and her kin are at war with the mindless ants. She watches the destruction of one of their cities called the Seven Trees as the ants set it ablaze. Portia returns to the Great Nest and meets with her peer group to decide on how to save the Great Nest. Portia then travels to the temple where an unknown message from the messenger has been a comfort for the spiders despite the war. Portia is then invited to meet with her friend and scientist, Bianca who has a plan to end the war.

Meanwhile on the Gilgamesh, Holsten is awakened by a group of mutineers that refuse to be sent to the moon colony Guyen has decreed for them. The leader, named Scoles, takes Holsten to Lain before explaining with the help of a woman named Nessel that the moon colony is a death trap and Guyen is only forcing them to go for his own ego. When Guyen refuses to negotiate, Scoles and his crew take Lain and Holsten to a shuttle and they launch toward Kern’s World despite none of them knowing anything about Kern or the spiders. Karst follows them in a separate shuttle and Kern contacts them aware that they are fugitives. Holsten tries to reason with her, but works with Lain to confuse her with a picture of the spiders, allowing them to reach the atmosphere. However, the shuttle splits in two and plummets to the surface below.

Meanwhile, Bianca uses Portia and a group of female warriors to plant a weapon in the ant colony. She disguises them with the shell and scent of a beetle that lives among the ants, but the weapon goes off prematurely. Regardless, the chemicals overwhelm the ants and Bianca is able to reprogram them with domesticated ants of her own. She then tells Portia that something large just fell out of the sky.

Holsten wakes up on the planet surface without the cargo Scoles wanted to use to colonize. When they send someone out to check the air, they are attacked by a horde of ants and spiders with an ant that explodes inside the shuttle. They are forced back into the old cargo bay when Karts arrives and demands the return of Lain and Holsten. Once recovered, Karst shoots all the other mutineers and says they must leave the planet or Kern will destroy them. However, Nessel escapes and is later captured by the spiders who study her and the other dead humans (that they call giants), believing them to be a gift from the messenger for their success.

Generations later, however, a devastating plague sweeps through the spider society. Portia struggles to find a cure and uses her assistant Fabian to bring back three spiderlings that are immune to the plague. She tries to discover their secret when her friend Bianca arrives and agrees to help if Portia will talk to the temple and let Bianca talk to the messenger if they survive the plague. The three then use notes from another scientist named Viola and discover both DNA and the existence of the nanovirus. They use this to create a serum that saves the Great Nest at the cost of many lives. This creates a new idea that the messenger is within every spider and that Understanding can be passed between adults instead of relying entirely on offspring.

Meanwhile, the Gilgamesh - after leaving behind an unwilling group of colonists on a moon - arrive at another project they call the gray planet. Vitas explains that it is inhabited by a fungus that consumes everything it touches and they cannot possibly colonize here. However, Guyen is most interested in the Old Empire technology, telling his crew to equip the Gilgamesh with anything they can. In secret, Guyen forces Holsten to work on a secret project, taking him to the furthest reaches of the station. Lain helps Holsten in secret, as she does not trust Guyen. They find a device that Holsten translates as a type of uploading machine. This excites Guyen, but it is not until dinner with Lain that Holsten realizes that there is proof of a machine working in the fragmented mind of Kern.

More generations pass and the spiders are overcome with a religious fanaticism, as the messenger has begun talking to them directly. However, the messengers complex designs baffle the spiders who feel they are failing the divine plan despite discovering significant technological advances on their own. However, their society is beginning to fragment between those who believe in the messenger and those who want to question it. There is also an ever increasing divide between males and females as a particularly intelligent male, Fabian, decides to leave his partner Portia and head for the Seven Trees alongside a heretic, Bianca, and build his own peer group. With him, Fabian takes a unique Understanding on how to reprogram ants at any time with a single chemical, allowing them to perform multiple tasks without needing entirely new colonies. This becomes instrumental as the Seven Trees defend themselves from a crusade called by the Great Nest. Thanks to Fabian, the Seven Trees forces the Great Nest to surrender, and religious fanaticism is replaced with a healthy split between religious studies and practical, scientific beliefs. Fabian’s Understanding sparks a revolution, but he is killed before it happens.

Meanwhile, Holsten is awakened and placed in a cell onboard the Gilgamesh where hundreds of human cargo have been released and are beginning to multiply. After nearly a month of mindless translations, Holsten is captured again, but taken to Lain instead. She tells him that Guyen has created a cult from the awakened cargo, calling himself the savior. He wants to upload himself to the GIlgamesh, but Lain strongly believes this will crash the systems. When Karst and Vitas refuse to help, Holsten is captured a third time but demands to speak to Guyen himself. The commander is incredibly old and living off of advanced life support. He tells Holsten that he never intended for the project to take so long and he hates the generations of lives wasted for this. However, he believes that he is the only person who can lead them to the green planet. Holsten almost believes in him, until Guyen reveals that everyone on the moon colony died and he believes they deserved it. He then begins his upload and Vitas allows it to happen until Lain shoots him in the head. With part of Guyen’s brain in the system, Lain tells Holsten to be safe as she struggles to keep Guyen under control.

Multiple generations pass again as a new Portia, Bianca, and Viola work together to launch the Sky Nest, a blimp type construction that will take a small crew into space. At this point, Understanding is a commodity that can be interchanged at any time using libraries set up throughout various metropolis. Bianca herself is capable of holding an excess amount of Understandings and shifts them around to complete whatever task is needed. As Portia and her crew head off to space, Bianca tells the messenger that they are coming to see Her. She then sends various pictures of the spiders and their home. This causes an emotional crises within Kern as she realizes that she is not interacting with monkeys at all, but monstrous spiders. However, she comes to realize that they are her children, regardless of how they look, and agrees to help them. On the Sky Nest, Portia and Fabian prepare to release the spider’s first satellite. However, when Portia nearly dies deicing it, Fabian sacrifices himself to keep her alive. Portia goes on to focus on safer methods of space travel as the spiders prepare for the incoming invasion of the GIlgamesh.

Hundreds of light years away, Holsten is awoken by an alien he does not recognize. They tell them that they are actually human descendants of the key crew and that their grandmother is Lain. Holsten meets his long time love who explains that Guyen’s upload nearly destroyed the Gilgamesh and she has been out for 15 years trying to repair the damage. She laments not being able to use Holsten as support, but says she did not want to lose him as she grows old alone. She then reveals that they have a daughter currently cryo sleeping as an embryo alongside hundreds of others. She asks Holsten to go back to sleep so that he can help create a world on the green planet where their daughter can thrive.

Once again, many generations pass when Holsten is woken up alongside Vitas and Karst to work with the generations of ship crew that have kept the Gilgamesh moving toward the green planet. As Karst prepares an invasion, they are shocked to find that the spiders have built a complex web in orbit, making a descent onto the planet challenging. They decide to wake up a very old Lain who is determined to make it onto Kern’s World before she dies. However, the spiders have also spent countless generations preparing for this battle with the Gilgamesh, and Kern herself has even been uploaded into a type of computer system run by Fabian, Kern’s best friend. As the Gilgamesh begins its attack on the webbing, the spiders, led by Bianca, launch themselves at the ship. They eventually find their way into the ship and attack any humans (who they continue to call giants) that they see. This includes Karst, all of his soldier, and every family unit they find. Eventually, the spiders release an unknown toxin into the human’s air supply before marching into Vitas laboratory. She, too, is bitten by the spiders as Lain and Holsten realize they are the only ones left. However, Karst- who they thought was dead - tells them to give in as the spiders are just like them.

As the shuttle arrives on the planet, it is revealed that the spiders went against Kern’s advice to eradicate the humans. Instead, they recreated the nanovirus using studies of vertebrates and observations of the previous giants that works on humans. Instead of enhancing evolution, however, it rewires the human brain to see the spiders as their children and none of the humans are afraid anymore. Lain herself is carried off the ship by Holsten and happily dies on the world she led humanity to.

At least three generations later, a young Helena Holsten Lain prepares for a flight on the newly created Voyager, a living ship with an artificial heart made from parts of Avrana Kern. She is part of a mixed crew led by Portia planning an exploration out into the cosmos after finding an unfamiliar signal. Working together, the two species combine their Understanding and head back out into the unknown regions of space.

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