Adrian Tchaikovksy is probably someone I will confuse with Alastair Reynolds for a long time just because they are both science-fiction authors from the UK and like to write about wibbly wobbly, timey-wimey stuff. And Put Away Childish Things is a novella loosely based on the premise “What if Narnia were real and it were terrible?” Except, that’s kind of already been done? I received an eARC of this from NetGalley and publisher Rebellion.
Harry Bodie is an actor for a children’s TV show. He is not beloved. Very few people enjoy his company, and he is resentful that his career has never taken off. His grandmother wrote a series of beloved books called Underhill, which take place in a Narnia-esque world of the same name. Just as the COVID-19 pandemic starts up, Bodie finds himself the target of machinations from several factions, all convinced that Underhill is real and he is the key to accessing it—whether by wardrobe or some other portal.
I was really intrigued by the premise, of course, and excited to read the book, but it never seemed to start, for me? Maybe I’m unfairly comparing it to The Magicians. To be clear, this story is very different from that one—both deconstruct the desirability of Narnia, but one is about young adults eager to take up the practice of magic, and the other is about a washed up TV presenter being reluctantly dragged into interdimensional shenanigans. The stories are almost completely divergent, yet that one thread that they have in common made it difficult for me to put the comparison down.
Bodie is not a likable character, nor is he meant to be, but I don’t like that I don’t like him! Maybe because there just didn’t seem to be anyone to like in the book. I also think the main antagonist, and their goals/plans for Bodie, gets revealed far too late in the story, resulting in a climax and resolution that felt all too rushed.
In the same way, Tchaikovsky dangles little hints of grander things in front of the reader but never explores them. So Snickersnack can move between worlds because she’s got spider powers? OK? Tell me more about these worlds, or potentialities, or how they get manipulated. It’s a very compelling idea and reminiscent of what he explores in Children of Memory, but it doesn’t go very far because of the length of the story. I kept wondering what would have happened if this were novel length—yet at the same time, unlike some novellas and short stories, I have no burning desire to read the novel version of this story.
And Put Away Childish Things has clever ideas and solid writing, as I have come to expect from Tchaikovsky. There’s just nothing specifically that I can grab on to, however, and praise as “this made the story for me.” It’s nonspecific portal fiction, a curious blending of fantasy and science fiction. Good for an afternoon’s distraction? Sure. But not the first thing I would recommend.