BOOK REVIEW: Children of Ruin, by Adrian Tchaikovsky

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Publisher: Tor

Series: Children of Time (#2)

Genre: Hard SF/Space Opera

Pages: 565

Publication Date: 16/05/2019

Verdict: 5/5

 

A group of scientists arrive on a remote world, intending to terraform it for human habitation. But the planet is not as empty as they first thought . . .

Centuries later, Portia’s descendants and their human allies follow a signal to that same remote world. The misbegotten children of humanity are heading for a reckoning . . .

 

Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Children of Time is possibly the best SF novel of the 21st century. A flawless hybrid of evolutionary theory and Battlestar Galactica-esque human bickering, it’s the work that cemented him as one of my favourite authors. That book worked as a standalone, but with an epilogue that suggested further stories in the same world. Four years later, we finally get those stories.

As with the first book, Children of Ruin has two threads. The first deals with the human terraformers working on the planet of Nod. When they are cut off from Earth – by the same apocalypse referenced in Children of Time – we go from a fairly happy group of scientists working for the betterment of humanity, straight into the nightmares of psychological horror. If you thought the crew of the Gilgamesh had it rough, then you are not prepared for what Senkovi and the others will have to face.

The second thread is the direct continuation of the first book’s epilogue. A united crew of humans and hyper-evolved spiders begin their journey to Nod, unsure of what they will find there. What they find, and I don’t think this is a spoiler since it’s the core focus of the book, is a race of uplifted octopuses who have inherited Nod from the humans.

That’s right. Last time around it was spiders, and now Tchaikovsky has turned his attention towards octopuses. Or octopi. Or octopodes. All three are used. I honestly don’t think there’s any author – alive or dead – who can write the inhuman as well as Tchaikovsky. These octopuses have been uplifted to give them a human-level of intelligent, but they are not just human minds in octopus bodies. Their behaviour is utterly alien, as is their culture. I can easily say that no other alien society comes close to being as weird as Senkovi’s legacy, and I loved every minute of it.

Children of Ruin performs an incredible feat, as it manages to be on the cutting edge of modern SF, while also retaining the feel of a classic. A lot of modern SF tends to be suspicious of new ideas, showing technological leaps leading to dystopias. But that’s not the case here. While there are problems and bumps along the road, Children of Ruin has a positive outlook on science that reminds me of Golden Age stories. The conflict here is not resolved through violence, but through understanding, through scientific progress. It’s stunningly forward-looking, and a fine example of what the genre should strive to be.

As with Children of Time, the story is wrapped up well at the book’s end, but there’s plenty of potential left for more stories in this world. And if we do have to wait another four years, then I cannot wait for 2023.

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