I wouldn’t have reread this again so soon (less than two years) but it’s another book club reread, so here we go. I’m not objecting – it was a good book – but it was only just long enough ago that I felt it necessary to reread.
My fundamental opinion – see here – hasn’t changed on rereading it, so this won’t be super long.
I am totally unsurprised, but very glad, to discover that Children of Time lives up to rereading. Maybe not as well as The Sparrow, but well, that’s hardly a shock. It has manage to lose not even a small bit of the tension of my first reading, even when I know what’s going to happen – I still found myself caring about people and hoping things were going to work out well, which feels weird when you know the outcome but you can’t help but being sucked into the narrative. I still found myself really disappointed at each perspective switch, because of that desperate need to continue with the current thread, to know what happens next. I still loved the characters, and wanted them to do well.
I think the only thing that has really changed is I now love Isa Lain more than Holsten Mason, clearly and without doubt or regret.
One of the things that became clear to me in this read is how much I appreciate the splitting up of the roles of the characters on the ship’s crew. You have five notable positions who come up: leader, engineer, scientist, security, classicist. Of these, two are women, the engineer and the scientist. Already, I think we have a non-traditional pick here… I’d expect the classicist to be a woman, and maybe the leader if we had a very collaborative one (why yes I’ve watched a lot of crappy SF tv, why do you ask). But instead, we get engineer and scientist, both very clearly male roles (admittedly so is security but you can’t have everything). But not only that, the way they fill those roles is really satisfying. Vitas, the scientist, is cold, calculating and emotionless, most of the time. She is absolute textbook scientist, in all the ways one can imagine… while still being a woman. Her gender feels incidental. Lain, however, manages to be blatantly feminine in many ways, while also grandly filling the role of engineer with her personality and self. She has desires and lusts, emotions and turmoils, but at the same time… she’s the sweary one, the competent one, the one who holds things together with spit, prayers and duct tape, and the force of her personality. She teaches and nurtures at the same time as she dismisses, curses and tinkers. She’s a huge, whole character of a person whose gender is part and parcel of her being while filling a very traditionally male role, and I love her immensely. Meanwhile, Holsten, male Classicist… is the squishy one. The one who needs protecting and shepherding, and gets sidelined to do pointless, communicationy things while the grown ups are doing science. Even when he’s useful – and he is occasionally quite useful – he doesn’t get a massive triumph, but nor is he the forlorn, overlooked hero of the book. He has his moments, don’t get me wrong, but he never feels like the book is trying to say “alas, if only Holsten had been listened to all along, he so wise”. He makes mistakes too, and admits them to himself. It’s great.
Then you balance this with the spider narrative, where society is strongly female dominated (and you get your thread about gender equality there, done in the mirror, unsubtly)… it’s just very nicely done.
There’s a lot I love about this book, but upon rereading it, the characters, and how the characters’ genders matter, is what has struck me the most.