Wednesday 16 September 2020

There is grandeur in this view of life

“There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been and are being evolved.” 
— Charles Darwin

An alternate history that delves into unfollowed evolutionary paths, Adrian Tchaikovsky’s latest novel The Doors Of Eden is a complex and perplexing book that is ultimately more than the sum of its parts.

The book follows four disconnected people in London: young Fortean cryptid hunter Lee whose girlfriend Mal mysteriously vanishes; a mathematician Dr. Kay Amal Khan who is targeted by terrorists; a ruthless criminal enforcer Lucas May whose employer seems to be involved in the paranormal; MI5 agent Julian and his colleague Alison.

Each of these characters spends the first half of the novel investigating disparate mysteries, all of which eventually are revealed to have a common cause: the impending collapse of the universe.

Between character-based chapters, non-diegetic inserts offer vignettes about how evolution progressed in different timelines. The relevance of these passages to the narrative unfolds as the beings in these worlds become part of a larger effort to preserve the multiverse.

It’s a lot to fit into one book, and sometimes it feels like Tchaikovsky is juggling too many narratives. But somehow, for the most part it all ends up fitting together nicely. And, as is often the case, it’s more satisfying to have an author resolve a story in one book instead of three. 
One of our favourite interludes
was "The Philosophers." 
(Art via author's Twitter)

A recurring theme in Adrian Tchaikovsky’s science fiction is an ever-expanding definition of who and what deserves to have rights. The Doors Of Eden might be the most definitive thesis statement he has offered on this point: myriad types of intelligence are introduced throughout the book, and their neurodiversity has value. The villains of the book are those who strive for a narrow-minded definition of a “pure” race, and those who believe there is one correct way to be, to think, or to perceive the world. Diversity of thought, diversity of experience, diversity of form, are all overtly shown to be strengths. 

One character’s attempt to create an England for English people drives this point home, as Tchaikovsky draws a direct line between intolerance for differing ways of being and thinking, and a rigid authoritarianism that is incapable of dealing with global challenges. 

We appreciated the fact that the book’s celebration of diversity included representation of non-cis-gendered people (though we would be interested to hear the thoughts of someone from the trans community about what they thought of this depiction). There were moments in the novel in which an alt-right villain deliberately misgenders a protagonist who is trans, and this made some of us uncomfortable. 

In previous novels, Tchaikovsky seems to have taken inspiration from his degree in zoology, and his knowledge of ethology and evolution are again on full display here.While reading The Doors Of Eden’s speculations on various evolutionary paths, we were repeatedly reminded of Richard Dawkins’ The Ancestor’s Tale, and that book’s detailed dive into the diversity and beauty of evolutionary biology. The Doors Of Eden is a joyful celebration of the natural world’s endless potential, and an appeal to our shared empathy.

Tchaikovsky’s latest is among his best novels, and among the top-tier of 2020.

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