The Doors of Eden by Adrian Tchaikovsky
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This book comes across as a bit of an old-fashioned throwback, to the days when ideas were the engine of story. It's stuffed full of ideas: deep time, the multiverse, alternate history, alternate worlds, parallel evolution, dimension-hopping Neanderthals, and a journey aboard a living spaceship back to the very first Earth, where an alien intelligence that evolved during the first life-bearing epoch in Earth's history (the Ediacaran, 565 million years ago) awoke and became a god.
Needless to say, it's a doorstopper. Fortunately, I bought the paperback, which still comes in at nearly 600 pages. If there was a hardback edition, I imagine one could use it to pound nails.
Books like this definitely need some engaging characters, and for the most part this book delivers. I don't think the characterization is outstanding--I would have liked for some of the Neanderthals to have POV chapters--but the characters are likable and have some depth, especially the nominal protagonists, Lee and Mal. One thing that's evident in the prose style is that the author is British. I knew that before I even looked at the short bio in the back, as this book is full of that dry, deadpan, stiff-upper-lip British humor. For instance, on the very first page:
Mal was short for Elsinore Mallory, because her parents came from came from a particular social stratum where that was perfectly acceptable. However, she never forgave them for it.
This book has multiple points of view, but there's also a hint of an omniscient POV running in the background. This has the feel of the author standing back, just a hair, and weaving a bit of his own commentary throughout the narrative. This becomes a more evident at the end, when the villain (as smarmy, arrogant villains who just have to talk tend to do) reveals his motivation.
At the climax of the book, the characters come to the conclusion that the only way to save the multiverse from collapsing is not to isolate each individual timeline, but blend it--overlap the individual Earths to an extent, with permanent links between all of them. This will provide the scaffolding, as it were, to prop up the multiverse. Unfortunately, the antagonist, the aforementioned smarmy, arrogant billionaire who has been trying to exploit the multiple Earths, objects.
"The plan," Rove said, "is to preserve our world, Mr. Sabreur. Our world--as it should be preserved. To save our institutions, customs and way of life. Not to live in a world where the unspeakable is around every corner. And I'd have thought you'd agree. Do you really want to live in the world they're proposing?"
"Not really," Julian admitted. "Sounds like the lesser of two evils, though, compared to annihilation."
"But they can make it work!" Rove spat. "I've seen the maths. Until this latest nonsense from Khan, they were perfectly happy to keep trying, too. Mr. Sabreur, look at who you're standing with here. Not your sort of people, not at all. You can't just let them waltz in." He indicated the Cousins [the Neanderthals], Ertil, Cam [other intelligent species from different timelines]...but his gesture might have taken in Khan [a trans woman], Lee and Mal [a lesbian couple] too. And to Lee's amazement, Rove's voice trembled a little, a genuine mote of sentiment making itself known. "They're stronger than us, Sabreur. They'd make us their slaves, destroy us, colonize us."
This sort of xenophobia could apply to a lot of current situations in Adrian Tchaikovsky's country and mine. (Or at least in my case, until Donald Trump's ass was booted out. Unfortunately for the UK, Boris Johnson is still there.) But this book was written in the context of Brexit, and I can't help but think (though again, to be clear, this is only my speculation, and nothing I have read the author actually saying) that this character of Rove and his motivation, and the way he is defeated in the end, is the author's big middle finger to the people of Britain who voted for Brexit. The solution to the universe-spanning problem in this book is cooperation, not isolation; and sharing, not selfishness. As the book ends, the blended multiverse is opening up countless new possibilities for the people of Earth, and indeed the sapient inhabitants of all the Earths--possibilities that will, in the end, make life richer and better for all of them.
That's the final Big Idea of a story built on such, and it ties all the other ideas together in a pretty impressive bow. I'm sure some people will complain about this book's length and heft. But ideas like these demand a story this size, and if you give it a chance, you will be rewarded.
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