Book review: The Doors of Eden by Adrian Tchaikovsky

The Doors of Eden is a high concept book with great build-up, which still falls short due to the human element. Some of the passages are fascinating and the entire concept is intriguing, but the protagonists fall flat and are largely unrelatable. While other books (including Tchaikovsky’s own works like Children of Time) may get away with this, a narrative where the impact of a global catastrophe directly and very strongly affects the main characters, suffers from such one-dimensional protagonists. I’d rank this story as one of the weaker works of this prolific author.

Lee and Mal consider themselves cryptozoologists. They scour the Internet for strange monster sightings and investigate some of them. One such case leads them to the English countryside where they get more than they bargained for. They not only find strange and dangerous animals, but also somehow make it into their world. Only Lee emerges back; Mal is lost forever. For Lee, who has been romantically involved with Mal, this is a huge blow, and she spends the next several years bouncing from one obscure publication to the next, never amounting for much.

Kay Amal Khan is a brilliant mathematician whose work on cryptography caught the eye of the government who assigns Julian, an MI5 agent, to protect her from people who aren’t happy that she is a biological male. Julian’s analyst, Alison, determines that an attack on Khan is imminent, so Julian sends the local police to intercept the attackers. The police find Khan unharmed, but the attackers are severely mutilated. Julian rushes to the scene, where he finds Khan and Lee talking. Lee found her way to Khan’s house by agreeing to meet a mysterious caller who sounded just like Mal. This turns out to be indeed the long-lost Mal, in the company of a strange, hulking man, on their way from Khan’s house. When Julian reviews the footage from nearby security cameras, he notices Lee in the company of these two, and Lee becomes a person of interest.

Julian is not the only one interested in Lee, though. The mysterious tech magnate Mr. Rove sends his henchman, Lucas May, to capture Lee and possibly Mal. To close the loop, Julian is also interested in Rove, whom he suspects of financing the extremist group that tried to attack Khan. A wild chase between Lucas and Lee ensues, culminating into crossing to several universes and the deaths of all secondary henchmen. Lee escapes and is reunited with Mal. She learns that Mal disappeared into a parallel universe where she was found by a race of universe-hopping Neanderthals, and since then worked with them in an entire web of interconnected universes. Her hosts found out that the multiverse had been collapsing and were trying to recruit Khan to help to calculate a way to stabilize it. Rove wants Khan for a similar purpose: to stabilize one universe where he’d rule, while discarding the rest. As the story picks up pace, we’re introduced to super-advanced rats, giant space-faring trilobites, omniscient supercomputer built from frozen fish, and many more weird sights. Eventually, the cast of characters gets together and travels to the origin point to meet God. From there, parallel strands of new multiverses unravel, offering all possibilities, and it’s up to the protagonists to find one that will help them save the world.

Interspersed in the narrative are chapters dealing with the evolution of other species. An evolutionary professor speculates on what would happen if various species from our past, from the before mentioned trilobites, through various fish, flying creatures, dinosaurs and mammals, gained sentience. How they’d evolve, what civilization they’d build and how they’d end up. These chapters provide, in my opinion, the most intriguing and entertaining insights in the entire novel. Tchaikovsky is known for having studied biology and for his penchant for uplifting non-human species to sentience. Here, he keeps these stories just condensed enough to keep the reader interested and intrigued. Many of these segues are indeed playing a role later in the book, thus further satisfying his readers. In a sense, this is the Children of Time situation all over again, where the reader is hooked on a story of the evolution of a species and keeps asking: “And then what happened?” Here, it’s not only one species, but several of them, and in addition to their evolution we also get their interaction.

The entire premise of the story is a crisis in the multiverse. This makes the scope so enormous it’s difficult to comprehend, so the author is inventing several characters that would help navigating through the narrative. Unfortunately, this is where the book falls short. Very short. The characters are largely one-dimensional, and any attempt at introducing some character backgrounds is inadequate. We have Lee and Mal, a lesbian couple, who seem to be along for the ride. This would work if they were the sole narrators through whose eyes the reader would observe the story. However, they are missing from large portions of the text. Tchaikovsky tries to develop a side story of a hidden sexual tension between Julian and Alison, pitting their feelings for each other against their sense of duty for their respective families. As a husband and a father, however, I found Julian’s familial concerns so superficial I couldn’t take them seriously. If this is how the author feels about his family, I imagine him spending lots of lonely nights in the shed. Khan, Rove and Lucas are all very one-dimensional. Khan is a flamboyant and very assertive woman, but put her into man’s clothing and you have a very docile, bashful little gray mouse. Rove seems to be evil for evil’s sake and his plan and methods to achieve it are so outlandish it’s a wonder anyone takes him seriously. Anyone except Lucas, who acts like an automaton, without regard for his own personal safety, to act on any command Rove may have. Neither of the characters is relatable, and none is positioned to become at least the narrator.

For me, the lack of relatable characters was the biggest failing of this book. Evolutionary descriptions were the highlight, and the multiverse theory and interaction between various sentient species were fun to read. I wish the superficial personal relationships didn’t get into the way of an otherwise enjoyable read. They may work in a story with a more limited scope, but a multiverse collapse is as big as you can get, and it completely drowns out even better written characters. Here, personal storylines just got in the way and slowed down the narrative so much that at times that reading it felt like a chore. Because of this, I rate The Doors of Eden as one of Adrian Tchaikovsky’s weaker offerings. Still worth a read, but given how much other content was created by the author, it’s not a big loss if you skip this one.

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