Reviews

THE DOORS OF EDEN, by Adrian Tchaikovsky

 

I received this novel from Pan McMillan through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review: my thanks to both of them for this opportunity.

This book was one hell of a rollercoaster ride, indeed: there is something to be said about starting a novel with little or no idea, or expectations, about what you’re going to find, and it’s like embarking on a journey into a strange land, not knowing what kind of peoples or beasts you will find. The Doors of Eden is exactly like that, and not just in a figurative way, because the phrase “worlds enough and time” – which ends up being quoted at some point – describes perfectly the core concept of the story.

It all starts like a mystery, with two girls – Lee and Mal – taking a trip in search of outlandish creatures and with Mal disappearing into what looks like the portal into a strange, impossible world, the disappearance being recorded by the authorities like an accident and Lee having to deal with survivor’s guilt and the burden of being a witness to something that defies reason.  That is, until four years later, when Mal reappears out of the blue while freakish events start sending the world into turmoil, adding new elements – science fiction, pure science, thriller, just to name a few – to the narrative mix.

At the same time, MI5 agents Julian and Allison are investigating the home incursion on renowned physicist Kay Amal Khan, and soon find themselves facing inexplicable episodes like untraceable phone calls or information windows appearing on computers disconnected from power.  Not to mention some equally eerie matters like the strange individuals, looking like one of the discarded branches of humanity, popping up here and there, or the shady activities of tycoon Rove, whose figurative fingerprints seem to be all over the place.

What it all boils down to, as it’s evident from the incident of Mal’s disappearance, is that the theory of parallel worlds, where evolution took widely different paths, is not a theory at all and for some reason the barriers between these worlds are getting thinner, with an ever-increasing risk of intrusions between realities. Dr. Kahn’s theoretical work postulated this possibility, but now that it’s become a dangerous, potentially deadly reality, everyone is after her – either to fix or exploit the situation…

If Adrian Tchaikowsky’s previous book, Children of Time, put me in connection with his notions on the path of evolution of creatures different from mankind, this new novel takes that concept and multiplies it for what looks like an infinite number of instances: between the chapters dedicated to the core events and characters, there are interludes written in the form of an academic lecture on parallel evolution, where every possible permutation of intelligent life is shown with an abundance of fascinating detail. Where at first I saw that these… interruptions as a distraction from the story, after a while I understood they were an integral part of it, better still, they were the way to introduce the crucial idea at the basis of the novel –  and to show how these endless shifts were the result of small changes growing into an avalanche effect.

The logical progress from the primordial ooze to these mind-boggling alternate Earths is mind-blowing and nothing short of fascinating: the way Tchaikowsky turns the words on the page into a cinematic depiction of steamy jungles or endless seas, peopled by the most bizarre creatures, is nothing short of riveting while being at the same time an informative and easily understandable presentation of the infinite possibilities of evolution. I can make no claim on scientific knowledge of the processes of evolution, but reading those sections of the book was no struggle at all, while it proved equally fascinating and a close look into this author’s scope of imagination.

The characters are as carefully drawn as the background in which they move: Julian and Allison have something of a Mulder & Scully vibe, in that they are attracted by the spookier aspects of their investigation and are not afraid of getting their proverbial feet wet, while the antithesis between her willingness to take the weirdest of clues at face value and his very British adherence to propriety serves to define them well and make them quite relatable.  One of my favorite characters is that of Dr. Kahn: highly intelligent and amusingly sarcastic, she’s quite different from the prototype of the brilliant-but-detached scientist in that she’s very rooted in reality and possesses a huge capacity for empathy, particularly when she finds herself among non-human creatures (I will come back to them in a short while) and realizes, after the first understandable moments of revulsion, that no matter the shape, people are still people with all of their fears, desires and needs. And she, being a transgender and the continued object of hostility and scorn, is best qualified to see beyond mere outward appearances.

The “bad guys” are given as much depth as the “heroes” and if it’s simply impossible to share Rove’s world-view or his ultimate goal – particularly when the plan is revealed in its complexity, ruthlessness and longtime preparation – it’s also easy to see where he comes from and what shaped his mindset, not least because his kind finds far too many real-life examples in the present world.  Rove’s main henchman Lucas is also an interesting character, balanced between opportunistic choices and some faint glimmers of a conscience, which gift him with more facets than one would expect from someone in his position and… career choice.

I want to reserve a special mention to the non-human creatures I spoke of before, from one of the many Earths: once again Adrian Tchaikowsky managed to offer a different point of view on animals I find absolutely repulsive, and to turn them into beings I could empathize with. If it looked difficult with the spiders from Children of Time, here it seemed impossible, because we’re talking about rats – yes, critters that manage to make those spiders look like house pets and who come on the scene Hobbit-sized and even more revolting for their humanlike appearance:

They were hunched, half the size of a man, wearing rubbery black uniforms with gas masks and goggles and wielding ugly-looking weapons designed for use up close against crowds, because that was their entire life where they came from.

If you add the detail of their world being literally swarming with them due to unchecked breeding, the picture being painted here is something straight from the worst of nightmares. And yet the author is able to humanize these rats, give them distinct personalities and add poignancy to their appearance: much of it is due to the character of Dr. Rat, but also to a scene in which a whole family group runs for safety bringing all their worldly possession with them.  Ludicrous as this might sound, in that moment I thought of the cute rats in Disney’s Cinderella, and stopped seeing these as the scurrying vermin that would otherwise have me run for cover. Yes, Adrian Tchaikowsky did it again…

Prepare for a full immersion in a huge story teeming with amazing ideas and graced with as much heart in it as there is science. It might feel like far too much at times, but it’s a journey totally worth taking.

 

My Rating:

53 thoughts on “THE DOORS OF EDEN, by Adrian Tchaikovsky

  1. Oh wow! You’ve done a fabulous job of highlighting some of the more amazing aspects of this sprawling, accomplished book and encompassing it within a stormingly good review… I loved this one, having the sense that I was watching a major talent at the height of his powers:)). And you’ve managed to depict that!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Cool, detailled review indeed, thank you! I’m curious to finally read somethin of Tchaikovsky. It seems he can do lots of genres. On the other hand: I fear he recycles his own successful ideas (spiders -> rats), and I don’t like such obvious commercialism. Do the rats play an important part to the story, or are they more of a sideshow?

    Do you think this is better than Children Of Time?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It’s different from Children of Time, in that humans here are front and center, and rats only… guest stars 😀
      IMHO I don’t think he recycled ideas: the descriptions of the forms of life evolving in the parallel Earths speak of huge imagination and great powers of extrapolation. I’d like to read more from Tchaikovsky to see if there are any patterns, but so far I have not detected any…

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Good to know. I might give this a try if I come across this when they bookshops open again. Will need to read the first couple of pages though, the prose of CoT bothered me when I did that, and ended up not buying it.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. If memory assists me, the beginning of Children of Time felt a little slow, and it took me a little time to… get into the spirit of things, so I believe that a little sample might not go amiss :-). Sometimes excerpts are made available so that might work out for you…

          Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh man, itching to get my hands on this one! So far I think it’s only out through Pan Macmillan though, which is a UK publisher…I think it’s highly likely it will come to the US soon so I won’t resort to Book Depository just yet, but ugh, I don’t like waiting 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Even though I have not read much from Tchaikovsky, I think this might surpass his other works in scope and imagination, so I can understand your eagerness to read this one: you will see what an incredible experience it is – and I hope that it’s sooner than you think!!! 🙂

      Like

  4. This was an amazing review! I have read just one book by this author but I loved it and I promised myself that I would read some of his other books, but I was more attracted by the fantasy ones. I have a somehow difficult relationship with sci-fi and I wasn’t so interested in this book, but your review made me curious. And now I have to add this one on my TBR too!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I read only Children of Time and Children of Ruin, so my experience with this author is limited as well, and unlike yours it’s been SF only so far, which makes me curious about his fantasy exploits. One thing is certain, he does not lack ideas!!! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  5. This is an amazing review, thank you. I have met the author over dinner here in Edinburgh and I promised I was going to read this one. Now it seems I can’t avoid it. 😊And, like Tammy, I actually like (small) house rats 😁

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I have skimmed your review as I’ve got this on TBR… but that’s quite enough for me to be sure I really do need to get to this one. The release date has been pushed back here in the UK, so I can happily keep it for when I’ve glutted myself on fantasy for Wyrd and Wonder and got on top of my Subjective Chaos reads, yay!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I got denied for this so I’ll have to wait… But I find the animals Tchaikovsky chooses interesting. The spiders in a few of his books, the rats in this one, insects in the Shadows of the Apt. I’m reading Firewalkers right now, and it’s another insect one. He really seems to be into creepy crawlies doesn’t he?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh my! Insects??? Creepy crawlies?? 😱
      I will need some fortifying meditation exercises before I tackle either series, because I’m not sure I can take *those* after spiders and rats! 😀 😀
      Thanks for the warning…

      Like

  8. Woo hoo – I’ve not read your review yet but show a glowing 5 stars is very encouraging. I have this one waiting to be read, and I love this author, so I’m even more excited now.
    Lynn 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I missed out on this one, as I registered on Netgalley too late to request it 😅 But I’m very happy to hear Tchaikovsky keeps his good form in writing. I doubt I’ll find another book of his that will sweep me off my feet as Shadows of the Apt did, but I haven’t yet read a book of his that I wouldn’t like, so I have high hopes for this one!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Rats are actually very intelligent; I’m not surprised he got to rats eventually, and I hope he did it with more good will than in his recent trilogy, where they were a truly menacing pestilence. Justice for the rats and cockroaches! 😂

        Liked by 1 person

  10. AH! Fantastic review!! You’ve sold me on this one!!! I’ll have to pick this up soon and I love that Tchaikovsky manages to humanize the creepy crawlies of our world once again.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Everything Adrian Tchaikovsky has written sounds like something I’d love, but for some reason I’ve never got round to reading anything by him! Great review, I enjoyed this a lot.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Adrian Tchaikovsky’s books continue to sound absolutely brilliant every time I read a review from you of him. I am glad to hear this one explores even more some of his signature ideas and even makes rats look awesome! Thanks for sharing this passionate and beautiful review, Maddalena! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

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