Book review: The Doors of Eden by Adrian Tchaikovsky

(cover image courtesy Pan Macmillan Australia)

Fiction is in love with the idea of the multiverse.

And why would it not be? The idea that there are multiple earths all strung together, cheek-by-jowl on a daisy chain of quantum mechanical marvelry is a beguiling one, ripe as it is with the alluring prospect of infinite possibilities and the thrilling sense that we are not alone but part of a series of multiple realities where each earth is just enough like the next one to be recognisable while being dazzlingly alien and “other” simultaneously.

So well used has the multiverse become in all kinds of media that you would have to wonder if there is anywhere left to go with a concept that by its very nature should be possessed of infinite ways to tell a story.

Thankfully for those of us who love epic sci-fi with all the intellectual and humanistic reasoning we could want, Adrian Tchaikovsky, winner of The Arthur C. Clarke Award for Children of Time, has found a way to not only tell an original tale set in the multiverse in The Doors of Eden, but to tell it with the verve and passion that suggests this is the first anyone has heard of the idea.

It’s not of course with the concept of multiple earths, all different realities branching off the same point of origin and manifesting in wholly different yet similar ways, having been around since Adam was multiple versions of himself, long enough in fact that most people will have some idea of what you mean when you talk about alternate earthily realities.

Not that they could defend an academic dissertation on the topic but enough that a book like The Doors of Eden, which comes in at a whopping 600 pages approximately, will make sense to them and enthral their senses with a story that is both compellingly otherworldly and yet very human.

“There wasn’t enough of the man’s face in the footage to run through recognition software, but the girl was another matter. The police would be looking into it, of course, but Alison had a bad habit for an analyst of scaring up her own intel when it suited her. Yet another blot on her record, balanced only by her good results. And if someone was trying to poach Kahn, it really was a national security matter.” (P. 67)

In this tale of the multiverse, evolution has taken some decidedly different turns depending on how life manifested itself in the midst of a planet in constant and sometimes life-ending upheaval.

Charting a course through the geological epochs of Earth, beginning with the first stirrings of life in the Ediacaran (565 to 540 million years ago) through the Silurian, Triassic and Jurassic and Neogone, with stops along the way for the great Permian Extinction and the arrival of the meteor that ended most dinosauric life 65 million years ago, The Doors of Eden is a stunningly imaginative romp through the exciting possibilities that come with life fighting its way to prominence on a planet that often seemed inimical to its very existence.

We all like to think that life is all but inevitable, and certainly that is the way it is often presented to us,

But the reality is, as Tchaikovsky points out with sage insight, is that the Jurassic Park idea that “Life will find a way” is not as robust and inviolable as it is often presented. (Jurassic Park is but one pop culture property referenced in a novel packed to the brim with references to everything from Lord of the Rings to even The Wind in the Willows, and well beyond.)

In fact, life is often right up against it, and in The Doors of Eden, it becomes readily apparent, fightingly quickly that life is in grave danger of ending all together, not with an evolutionary whimper but a cataclysmic bang, and not just across our earth but every single last damn one of them, each reality falling into the other until all that remains is lifeless oblivion.

Adrian Tchaikovsky (image courtesy Pan Macmillan Australia)

On the edge of your seat yet? Well, you should be, because The Doors of Eden is a riotously action-filled, thoughtful and highly emotive ride through the idea of multiple earths holding multiple realities with humanity, and a range of other fantastical creatures caught squarely and potentially fatally in the middle.

It all begins with two young women, Ellisnore Mallory (Mal) and Lisa Pryor (Lee), who are two lifelong friends who harbour an oft-indulged love of monster hunting.

They are part of an underground group of of cryptid-obsessed people who believe that not only are the monsters of myth and legend real but that they walk amongst us, whether its Yeti or aliens or swamp creatures.

Whatever they are, they are real and Mal and Lee are determined to prove their existence to the world, undertaking all kinds of risky expeditions, including one to Bodmin Moor in southwest England where shockingly Mal disappears in the middle of a summer snowstorm amidst a weird stand of stones that suggest that something far more than some stone architecture.

Four years later, Lee is known as the Girl Who Came Back, a sad figure who has remained true to her impelling love of monster lore but who wonders if everything she saw that fateful day on Bodmin Moor is a product of her overactive and vividly expressed imagination.

We all know it isn’t of course because at the same time, weird things are happening here on our planet Earth with strange Birdmen being filmed by CCTV on farms and Neanderthal like operatives causing all kinds of alarm for MI5 agents like Julian Sabruer and Alison Matchell, two people who discover there is far more their dark-tinged reality than they are ever though possible.

“That smile, still, so terribly pleased with itself, and Lucas found her couldn’t look at it. The rats were more human, in that moment, than the man whose glass he refilled. He wondered at what point Rove intended to double-cross his rodent allies and remove them, and most likely their entire branch of reality, from the picture. He wondered the same about himself.” (P. 327)

The cracks between our earth and a host of others are widening and becoming far more common, and as The Doors of Eden unfolds in all its gloriously inventive wonder, we are taken on an enthrallingly exciting journey through the lush, expansive mysteries and possibilities of life and how our idea of how the world operates is hopelessly limited by a worldview that assumes there is a just one world, one form of sentient life and one way for all those molecules to find verdant, vivacious expression.

Interspersed with excerpts from a fictitious academic textbook by one Professor Ruth Emerson of the University of California, where she details a myriad of earths where life arose and fell and arose again (maybe) in various epochs that bear no resemblance to life on our earth, The Doors of Eden is proof positive that stories based on the idea of the multiverse still have a long way to go yet.

While it bears some resemblance to previous forays into the idea of the multiverse such as Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter’s the Long Earth series, The Doors of Eden is its own quite marvellous, impressively substantial, brilliantly told tale of what might happen if the multiverse we known as a concept suddenly turns out to be very real indeed.

With anything possible in these strung together, interconnected worlds of endless possibilities, Tchaikosky goes for giddy, emotionally resonant, highly well thought-out broke, gifting us with a full speed ahead story of the beginnings and end of worlds, including rather perilously our own, and the way in which they could come crashing into each other with confounding and fighting results.

Thankfully for those us reading from the supposes safety of our single Earth-situated seats (are you sure about that?) they also result in a brilliantly readable, oft-times funny and always insightful novel that dares to wonder if life is far more complex and astounding than we thought, and whether its birth and death and resurrection might usher in a reality that defies everything we have ever previously known.

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