BOOK REVIEW: The Doors of Eden, by Adrian Tchaikovsky

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Publisher: Tor

Genre: Thriller/Hard SF

Pages: 597

Publication Date: 20/08/2020

Verdict: 3.5/5

People go missing. Sometimes they come back. Sometimes, they bring others back with them. The walls around our reality are breaking down, and if they cannot be fixed, who knows what might come through next . . ?

Time and time again, Adrian Tchaikovsky has proven himself to be one of Britain’s most versatile writers. From epic fantasy to (r)evolutionary space opera, to cutting edge novellas and Dying Earth wastelands, he’s a man who can turn his pen to any sort of tale. It is perhaps inevitable then, that sooner or later he’d write a book that just didn’t work for me. The Doors of Eden is, unfortunately, that book.

In a first for Tchaikovsky’s novels, it’s set in the present day, although not always the one you might expect. There is a small, but very diverse, cast of characters on show. Two teenagers who hunt down cryptids, MI5 agents invetsigating mysterious attacks, a corrupt billionaire with a sinister agenda, and a scientist who may just have discovered the end of the world. This has all the makings of a James Bond film, and dlivers the same level of high-octane action and dry wit, though with a great deal more humanity than the gun-toting superspy. As a thriller or a drama, it’s a fine piece of writing, but the science fictional elements are largely in the background. And then the dimension-hopping cavemen show up.

Tchaikovsky’s greatest strength has always been the ease with which he crafts non-human characters. One only needs to look at back catalogue to see that. And as Children of Time demonstrated, he is adept at creating non-human worlds. Here this is dialled up a notch further. Through the use of interludes, Tchaikovsky presents us with various alternate versions of eath, each following a different evolutionary path. A world ruled by trilobites who fly through space, a wasteland destroyed by a war between the ancestors of scorpions, a paradise of cats that enslave all other species, and many, many more. These interludes are unquestionably the strongest part of the book, each vignette a story in its own right. At first, they barely seem connected to the central narrative. And when the various worlds do collide, that is where the novel – for me – faltered.

Perhaps it’s because of the terrible headache I suffered while reading, but I was left confused by some of the turns the book took. Largely, however, I suspect it’s all down to personal taste. I prefer my SF to be set in a world that is more removed for our own. Give me parallels rather than direct commentary and I’m a happy man. And while I am very much interested in posthumanism – what comes after humanity – I’m a lot less interested in transhumanism – what humanity might become. None of this is to say that this is a bad book, as the usual disclaimer goes, it just didn’t tick enough boxes for me to fully recommend it.

If you want a spy drama that blends reality with genuinely original science fiction concepts, The Doors of Eden is probably the book for you.

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