The Doors of Eden by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Recommended for:  fans of world-building
Read in August 2021
★   ★   ★  ★  

I’ve been told, by a mostly reliable source, that as long as your ending is satisfying, you just can’t complain too much. As much as my instinct is to argue, I’ve mulled it over and find myself unable to substantially disagree. Perhaps it all comes down to preferences: is it the lure of a story that arouses emotion through admiration and joy, or one that uses the frisson of aggravation as a road to pleasure? The Doors of Eden most definitely chose frustration as it followed a group of mostly exasperating humans as they attempt to decipher strange incursions into their lives.

Structured with a dual narrative, it alternates more ‘academic’ pieces with a third-person limited viewpoint from one of a handful of characters. Although it’s a technique that often annoys me, Tchaikovsky uses it to good effect. The academic pieces are usually short, while the character narratives are full of action and conflict. He’s also kind enough to avoid leaving the reader on a cliff-hanger with each section. The academic writings are taken from a not-real book called ‘Other Edens: Speculative Evolution and Intelligence,’ while they have a drier, more academic tone, each examines a world where what humanity understands as evolution followed a more divergent path.

It is an extraordinarily long book that doesn’t feel long at all, which says something for Tchaikovsky’s ability to balance those edges with plotting. I found myself remembering the sympathetic spiders and irritating humans in Children of Time and wondered if he was making a similar point here.

“He lost most of the journey to that familiar adult tension that was a mix of “I should be doing something” and “I have possibly screwed up” with a side order of ‘I have just generated so much damn paperwork for someone, and that someone is probably me.'”

I’ll be honest: there were parts where I was so very vexed with characterization. Part was Tchaikovsky’s inconsistent and potentially sloppy characterization, while the other part was all me. There’s one young woman, Lee, whose character doesn’t make much sense. She goes ‘monster-hunting’ experience with bestie and lover, continues it after her lover disappears, and yet is absolutely flummoxed and overwhelmed with the monsters turn out to be ‘real.’ Our intrepid intelligence agents have children, but literally give almost no thought to them. They have the kind of ‘children’ that harken back to imaginary, pre-social revolution times, where they are mentioned but seem to have absolutely no bearing on ethics or decision-making. There’s a reason main characters are often childless–it’s so we don’t have to realize the characters are failing in being responsible to their progeny.

“She could feel herself teetering over a great well of despair. She had worked herself up for this; she had borrowed hope at a ruinous interest rate—one that she had no chance of paying back. She had, she forced herself to admit, been spectacularly stupid from start to finish.”

The all-me part? Oh, that’s because I like my characters to do a bit of learning, maybe have a bit of an arc. These people are largely static, despite great discoveries and supposed learning experiences, where horizons are, sometimes quite literally, opening around them. Lee is the only one who has any growth; Mal, Julian and Kay are all largely static, which is particularly frustrating, as Tchaikovsky seems to take pleasure in showing us exactly where they could grow.

You’re sensing my irritation, right? You should. At one point, I was actually reading for the academic interludes, which featured fascinating ideas on other evolutionary paths and tipping points. Creative and clever thought experiments that had their own drama, despite the faux-academic tone. I imagine if one had a whole book of these mini-epochal adventures, it might become dull, but cut between the action-filled human scenes, I found them intriguing. (mild spoilers).  There were trilobites in the Cambrian, nautilus-like orthocones in the Ordovician (“Over ten thousand years, the ocean fills with their conversational flatulence”), the warrior sea-scorpion relatives of the Silurian seas (yes, I thought he was having fun with alliteration), the Devonian mudskippers and their climate correction, the Carboniferous cockroaches and their closed system, the aerial culture of the Permian pterosaurs, the weasels coming out of the Paleogene, the cats (I know he was laughing), the inbred, tribal lemurs and a few more.

I couldn’t quite walk away: He’d tease me with an idea, so I’d read a little farther, become irritated, and then tickle my imagination again. He’s good at stringing one along, that T. Then came the tipping point where I was hooked, and thoughts of extrication evaporated.

“This is a world where hard borders never existed: not between plant and animal, not between single and multicellular, not between species or individuals. It is a frontier town kind of world where the rules don’t apply. Something awoke when these creatures achieved a certain acreage, and what came to an awareness of itself was all of it. The world is a garden and the garden is a brain.”

All that build up lead to an absolutely amazing final quarter. It looked to be heading one way, then he’d magician another possibility out of the sci-fi hat. What a pleasure it must have been for a writer, getting to play with all those possibilities! (spoiler!) Everything more I could say would be spoilers, so I won’t. As an aside, if you thought Dark Matter failed to live up to its premise, this is the book for you. I went from considering abandoning it, to a better mood, to wondering if it was another entry by T. into Sci-Fi Canon. Because when he stops the teasing and it all comes together, it’s just that good.

Many thanks to Phil and Nataliya for the buddy read.

About thebookgator

avid reader and Goodreads reviewer looking for a home.
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10 Responses to The Doors of Eden by Adrian Tchaikovsky

  1. pdtillman says:

    TBR, Lib copy on reserve. Wish me luck! I’m looking to break my string of bad luck.poor choices for his stuff,,,,

  2. Ola G says:

    I’m definitely in the anti-Dark Matter camp 😉 I used to read all of Tchaikovsky’s books as they were published but reached a saturation point earlier than he did ;). I’ll be on the lookout for this, thanks!

    • thebookgator says:

      lol–Dark Matter. What a waste. I can see why you would have tried to keep up with T.–he’s done some amazing stuff. But I’m always a little suspicious of high-output writers–like, did you take any time to proof or wrestle with your ideas? However, since so many are novellas, it seems a bit easier if one is an idea-generator. 😊

      • Ola G says:

        Yup, that’s exactly what happened to him, IMO – at some point his books just got on that downward quality curve, with publishers accepting everything blindly and T not having time to properly think his ideas through, and by Children of Ruin I realized I prefer to check reviews first and listen to opinions of fellow readers before I take on another of his books. I made a mistake of reading Bear Head as it was published and welp, it didn’t end well 😉 But this one looks more promising, so thanks for the rec! 😀

      • thebookgator says:

        Ah, that makes total sense. Thanks for the tip that all is not of equal quality (I tried one other novella that was more ‘meh’ for me)–I mean, I’m cautious about adding Mt. TBR already, so it’s good to know my caution was well-placed.

      • Ola G says:

        To be honest, I like his early books the most. His Shadows of the Apt series is totally bonkers, in a good sense. It’s a work of love and unlimited imagination – basically what he wanted to write about before anybody even knew his name 😉 Besides The Doors of Eden I’m curious about Shards of Earth – I’ll be checking out both soon.

      • thebookgator says:

        Oh, I don’t think I know anything about that series… off to check it out. Thanks for the hot tip! I’ll be looking forward to your Shards of Earth thoughts… It didn’t do as much for me as other space-faring books.—edit: ah, okay, it’s the series that starts with Empire in Black and Gold. I had seen it and been tempted, but was put off by pure fantasy and war-as-major element, as it doesn’t do as much for me these days.

      • Ola G says:

        Yes, it’s undeniably about war, WWII in particular. It’s a curious example of techno fantasy, with lots of machines that are iterations of war-induced progress sometime past our industrial revolution. Fantasy elements are strong but not so dominant. I do understand all and any hesitation when it comes to a series 10 books long, however! 😅 I tend to avoid long series these days, they involve too big of a time investment for me.

  3. Pingback: Made Things by Adrian Tchaikovsky | book reviews forevermore

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