BOOK REVIEW: Children of Ruin by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Long ago, Earth’s terraforming program sent ships out to build new homes for humanity among the stars and made an unexpected discovery: a planet with life. But the scientists were unaware that the alien ecosystem was more developed than the primitive life forms originally discovered. Now, thousands of years later, the Portiids and their humans have sent an exploration vessel following fragmentary radio signals. They discover a system in crisis, warring factions trying to recover from an apocalyptic catastrophe arising from what the early terraformers awoke all those years before.

I’ll start this review with a disclaimer that I haven’t read the first of this sequence, Children of Time, which won the 2016 Clarke award and is, by many accounts, a fantastic book. I’ll have to go back and read it…

Children of Ruin is a 600-page beast of a book, and it is absolutely jammed full of fantastic sci-fi writing. Set in some distant solar system, lightyears away in both time and space, Tchaikovsky doesn’t merely world-build, he creates an entire, complicated universe with starkly realised eco-systems, evolutions and societies. With such vast scope, there’s always a worry that details will be lost or ideas never fully developed, but with Children of Ruin this is not the case. Every facet of these distant worlds is beautifully described and explored, so you feel entirely immersed throughout.

The plot itself follows two main timeframes: the first human terraformers, exploring the reaches of the universe to escape war and begin a new home for their race, and the second wave of system interlopers, many thousands of years later, wandering to discover existing new worlds. The first team are all scientists, specifically chosen for the mission because of their intellectual prowess and relative social reclusiveness, and the main character you follow was one of my favourites. Senkovi is egocentric, independent and very funny at times, adding some fabulous plot dynamics which are completely unexpected. One of Senkovi’s ‘pet projects’ is raising octopuses, and this hobby soon creates hijinks galore both in Senkovi’s timeline and later. (Yes, octopuses in space, what’s not to love?!). In the later sections the characters are even more varied, with alien Portiids, Humans and advanced AI machines working alongside each other to map out the unknown. Through both plotlines Tchaikovsky explores themes of humanity, language, consciousness and society in a wonderfully novel way that you will thoroughly enjoy.

Alongside the incredible world-building and sci-fi setting, Tchaikovsky also manages to write in a thriller sub-plot. Through narrative inserts that speak in a creepy, collective fashion he builds tension and threat as an undercurrent running throughout the book, without any overt violence until about halfway through. The reader is kept in the dark as to where these sections come from, and so the menace grows steadily with sections getting longer and more detailed as the book goes on. His use of different language and forms is a fantastic device that makes total sense in the complex universe that both the reader and human characters see only a part of.

I would thoroughly recommend this sci-fi epic – just be prepared to lose yourself for a few days in the universe!

Children of Ruin is published by Tor and is available here.

Adrian Tchaikovsky

Adrian Tchaikovsky was born in Woodhall Spa, Lincolnshire before heading off to Reading to study psychology and zoology. For reasons unclear even to himself he subsequently ended up in law and has worked as a legal executive in both Reading and Leeds, where he now lives. Married, he is a keen live role-player and occasional amateur actor, has trained in stage-fighting, and keeps no exotic or dangerous pets of any kind, possibly excepting his son. He’s the author of the critically acclaimed Shadows of the Apt series, and his standalone novel Children of Time is the winner of the 30th Anniversary Arthur C Clarke Award for Best Science Fiction Novel.

Reviewed by Amber Mears Brown

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