What a fascinating, challenging, maddening, and ultimately satisfying book!
The premise of the book is simple. What if, in the process of creating a virus that speeds up evolutionary development, the human race accidentally creates a super-society of hyper-intelligent spiders?
It’s “Foundation,” but for spiders.
And listen… it works! Now, I’m not particularly arachnophobic, but I think even if I were, I would appreciate this book. That’s how well Tchaikovsky writes. He makes the spiders effectively more appealing than the humans.
But that’s where it got a little tricky for me personally.
Because if you’re going to make spiders appealing, you have to make human beings at least somewhat unappealing, without completely demonizing them. And that’s exactly what Tchaikovsky does, and he does it deliberately and brilliantly by doing two things.
1) He constantly repeats the mantra that human beings are “nothing more than monkeys”. Full stop.
He then plays with that idea constantly in ways that are uncomfortable for me personally, but necessary for us to understand that we humans are often our own worst enemy. Yeah, I know history. I know that people have a mania for power. But Tchaikovsky, in the interests of making his spider protagonists appealing, has to “overbend the stick,” as Russias say (i.e. engage in hyperbole). He seems to suggest that human beings have NO capacity for overcoming their innate need to overcome and destroy everything in their path on their way to self-proclaimed godhood.
And again, being a student of history, I just don’t buy it. I know of too many cases of earth-shattering altruism and self-sacrifice to buy into the narrative that we are just glorified monkeys who need to be tricked into saving ourselves.
2) Tchaikovsky subtly repeats the phrase “standing on the shoulders of giants” throughout the book. Ironically, it’s the humans who refuse to see their achievements as coming from the sacrifice and hard work of previous generations. The spiders, on the other hand, DO acknowledge their debt to their past. Again, it’s necessary to maintain that slight edge of antagonism in the reader’s mind toward humanity at the expense of the spiders.
The whole picture is so well executed that I was sure that the end of the book could only be this. The destruction of the moribund and useless human race at the hands of the superior and more empathetic spiders.
Is that how it ended? SPOILERS! I won’t say. But suffice it to say that for this Christian humanist (me) who believes in the potential of the human race to overcome its failings, the end was not disappointing. It was certainly challenging. It certainly doesn’t jive with my worldview. However, it’s well executed, sympathetic, and humanist in the best sense. And the writing is beautiful.
And honestly, the spiders are really amazing.
Kudos to Tchaikovsky for an excellent book!