Tor | 2019 (16 May) | 576p | Review copy | Buy the book
Children of Ruin is the sequel novel to Children of Time and so you really need to have read the earlier novel first. In fact, if you haven’t read it, I urge you to do so. Science fiction, in my opinion, doesn’t get any better than Children of Time. It was one of my two top books of 2015 and remains one of my favourite books that I’ve ever read. I couldn’t wait to read Children of Ruin! This review assumes that you’ve read Children of Time and don’t mind hearing a little about what has happened before.
A crew has left Kern’s World and it’s a curious mix of human beings, descended from those who arrived on the Gilgamesh, and a number of the planet’s dominant species – spiders. They work closely together, each involved in experiments to improve communication between human and spider. And overseeing them all on their journey to seek out other life among the stars is Kern, a curious mix of human thought and ship technology. Once a scientist and terraformer, Kern is now an AI of sorts, whose chief concern is the care for the spiders she helped to evolve. But now, with humans aboard her ship, Kern is reminded of the humanity she’s lost, of the human vision and perspective she misses. But their expedition is put in jeopardy when they discover another form of life in another solar system. This species is at war with one another but their attention soon turns to the new arrivals and their reaction is hostile.
Another terraforming vessel has arrived in a system with a large planet, orbited by a moon covered in ocean. The planet, which they name Nod, is covered in mysterious life forms while the moon, Damascus, looks ripe for terraforming. And so, while one team studies Nod, the other sets to work on Damascus, evolving another species from Earth to help with the process. But it is on Nod that the greatest threat can be found, something that puts everything in peril. As one life evolves, another, humanity, might have reached its end.
Children of Ruin is a worthy sequel to Children of Time. I don’t think that anything can equal the first novel’s depiction of the extraordinary evolution of life on Kern’s World, but in Children of Ruin we are treated to some similar themes, as now it is the turn of the octopus to rise beyond its perimeters. The relationship of the octopus or octopi (the term is a topic for debate in the novel) to their ‘maker’ is so well drawn, while the character of the octopus is very different to that of the spiders. Again, Adrian Tchaikovsky explores some big themes about the nature of identity, memory, exploration, consciousness and self-awareness, the fate of Earth and humans, and the nature of life itself – what it means to be alive.
As the novel moves between its two strands, one set in the past and one in the present, we are taken to new worlds and there we encounter wonder but also terror. There are some genuinely frightening scenes here. Life isn’t always beautiful and the struggle to survive can be desperate. This drives the book on, giving it thrills, extreme action, horror, as well as moments of reflection and plenty of fascinating science.
This is engrossing storytelling and incredible worldbuilding. It may even alter the way in which you view life around you. The mix of science and drama is well balanced, engaging both the reader’s heart and mind. This is science fiction of the highest order, taking us to new worlds while illuminating the human condition. A stunning and rewarding read.