This Week’s Word Is “Divergence.”
Back to novels this week for Word Wednesday and a full-on science fiction tome from Adrian Tchaikovsky. I put off reading this one, fearing it was a little heavy for my current state of mind. This was a big mistake, as The Doors of Eden is a thought-provoking and absorbing read.
What is The Doors of Eden?
The Doors of Eden takes the reader on a journey that’s almost entirely unexpected. I’d love to have seen Tchaikovsky’s route map for this book! It opens with two young women in Cornwall, “cryptid” hunting. They’re following up strange reports of birdmen in the South West of the UK. Something peculiar happens, and one of the women, Mal, goes missing. Lee is left behind, with a strange story to tell and her heart shattered.
The main narrative picks up the action a few years later. Kay, a transgender mathematician, is attacked by far-right thugs the same night Lee receives a phone call from Mal. Worlds collide, literally.
Strings pulling strings and plots within plots are the order of the day in Doors of Eden. The British Secret Service has been monitoring Kay. She is one of the few people in the country able to understand the math behind a high-level encryption algorithm. A shadowy billionaire manipulated Kay’s far-right group attackers whilst the missing Mal returns, from who-knows-where, backed by a strange race of people who are also hopeful of enlisting the mathematician’s services.
It turns out that the very fabric of reality is at stake. Kay and Lee are reunited before crashing headlong into a multi-dimensional adventure.
If all that wasn’t enough, interspersed between the narrative chapters are excerpts from an academic-style book about Earth and potential alternative evolutionary pathways. Are these interesting merely interesting faux-scientific asides, or do they have a bearing on the overall plot?
Why Read The Doors of Eden?
As I alluded to in my last novel review (for Cory Doctorow’s Attack Surface), I’ve struggled with reading in 2020. Doors of Eden is not a light read. There were times when I longed for something trashy and easy to consume, but the true measure of how good a book is probably how you feel when you finish it. In the case of The Doors of Eden, I finished feeling exhilarated and desperate for more. It’s perhaps only when you step back, able to see the entire picture painted by a novel, that you realize just how great it is.
This is the first Adrian Tchaikovsky novel, I’ve read, despite him winning the Arthur C. Clarke award for Children of Time. For whatever reason, he’s never managed to climb to the summit of my to-be-read pile. Well, I won’t be making that mistake in future.
The Doors of Eden is an excellent high concept science fiction novel. The pull quote on the front cover reads “brimming with ideas,” and it most definitely is. Novels filled with conceptual, reality-bending ideas, aren’t always the easiest to read (see also: XX by Rian Hughes) but the better ones are always worth the cerebral investment. There is a lot going on here and it’s fascinating.
As well as the hi-concept sci-fi stuff, there is also some great social commentary. At one point in the book, Kay is gender-shamed and deadnamed. The effect this has on her is vividly portrayed, and the actions portrayed as an act of out and out cruelty. It cuts to the bone of what a cowardly, ignorant, and mean-spirited thing it is to do. These few pages are a masterclass in showing how devastating such insensitivity can be.
The Doors of Eden is a novel of inclusion. I can’t say too much about it, without spoilers, but Tchaikovsky brilliantly skewers the myth of nationalist isolationism and exceptionalism. He manages, within the context of the novel, to make one character look absurd, and it doesn’t take much skill in transference to see how this translates into the real-world. Sadly, the people who really need to read and assimilate this takedown, probably won’t ever read an inclusive and accepting novel like The Doors of Eden.
The Doors of Eden is a single-volume novel; entirely complete and able to stand on its own. Having said that, there are definitely opportunities for spin-offs and follow-ups; novels I’d be more than happy to read. I would love to read further books following the characters and settings offered up in The Doors of Eden.
This book may not be the easiest read of the year, but it is one of the strongest and most thought-provoking. I have no idea whether it marks the best introduction to the work of Adrian Tchaikovsky, but I’m certainly looking forward to reading some more.
Disclosure: I received a copy of this book in order to write this review.