Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Review: Children of Ruin by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Cover for Children of Ruin
Title: Children of Ruin
Author: Adrian Tchaikovsky
Series: Children of Time #2
Pages: 565
ISBN: 9781509865871
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Published: 14 May 2019
Genre: Science Fiction
Source: Review copy from publisher

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Thousands of years ago, Earth’s terraforming program took to the stars. On the world they called Nod, scientists discovered alien life – but it was their mission to overwrite it with the memory of Earth. Then humanity’s great empire fell, and the program’s decisions were lost to time. Aeons later, humanity and its new spider allies detected fragmentary radio signals between the stars. They dispatched an exploration vessel, hoping to find cousins from old Earth.

But those ancient terraformers woke something on Nod better left undisturbed. And it’s been waiting for them.

Do you want to go on an adventure? Of course you do! I absolutely adored Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Children of Time, it was a magnificent look into inhuman intelligence and changed the way I looked at spiders forever. Children of Ruin has some big shoes to fill and it doesn’t disappoint. What Children of Time did for spiders Children of Ruin does for octopuses, and then some!

The narrative is split into two story lines alternating between the past and present. The first, set in the past, follows a terraforming crew from Earth as they discover that the planet they were sent to terraform already plays host to alien lifeforms. In order to preserve and study these lifeforms they decide to terraform the neighbouring planet, Damascus instead. To aid in the terraforming process one of the crew decides to use the uplift virus on his pet octopuses in order to transform them into useful tools. Disaster strikes back home and things don’t go quite as planned...

In the present an exploration vessel, Voyager, crewed by Portiids and their Human allies arrive to investigate faint radio signals detected from the worlds where humanity once tread. They discover not only their distant cephalopod cousins, but also something truly alien and possibly lethal.

“We are going on an adventure”. Somehow Tchaikovsky manages to take such a simple phrase and turn it into something truly terrifying and sinister. At times the story verges into horror territory with a much darker tone than Children of Time, but by the end it shifts to a far more hopeful resolution.

Tchaikovsky once again excels in portraying inhuman intelligence and thought processes. While the uplifting of the cephalopods might seem similar to the events of Children of Time it is different enough to provide a captivating read. Children of Ruin manages to tick all the boxes. It has alien lifeforms, AI, space exploration, and a fascinating exploration of linguistics and communication in its many forms.
"The two species are still building that bridge between them, strand by strand, even two generations on." ( p 300)

"There had been a time when he had listened out for signals, abruptly convinced he was not alone, that other humans were out there and they wanted to talk to him. He had spent hours trying to sift gold dust from the clay of universal static." (p 358)
Ultimately Children of Ruin is a brilliant exploration of the burning need ingrained in intelligent life to know and to be known. The epilogue simply blew me away with its hopeful sense of wonder and exploration leaving that wonderful afterglow of an amazing story. Highly recommended!

The Verdict:
Children of Ruin is a worthy sequel to the groundbreaking Children of Time. Tchaikovsky once again excels at portraying and exploring inhuman intelligence in its varied forms. This is one adventure you definitely don’t want to miss out on!

The Rating: 8/10 (Great)

Thanks to Pan Macmillan SA for the review copy.

Addendum: If you are looking for some more spacefaring cephalopods I can also recommend Stephen Baxter's short story Sheena 5. Initially I thought Paul 5 might've been a nod to this short story, but it turns out it was just strange synchronicity at work.

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