Review: Adrian Tchaikovsky – Children of Ruin (2019)


Slight spoilers for Children of Time

How could a book about terraforming, uplifted species, evolution, alien communication and large timescales be so hard to get through?

Children of Ruin is the sequel to the successful science fiction novel Children of Time (2015). And in time-honoured fashion, the sequel tries to recapture the same magic that made the first book work, but more intensely. Children of Time was a bit of a surprise hit. It won the Arthur C. Clarke award but no Hugo nor Nebula, gaining attention through word-of-mouth. Tchaikovsky, I believe, had no plans to write a whole series at that time. A third book also has not been announced, so take the whole thing as an impromptu series, but do read them in order.

The first third is pretty similar to Children of Time and a continuation of it. Long ago, Earth sent out terraformers to distant solar systems, but human society waned and an Earthly species got the chance to grow into an intelligent civilisation on another world. Many thousands of years later, the crew that set out at the end of Children of Time makes contact with this new world.

The humans cooperating with spiders is still very cute to me. Spider technology and communication are very very different, and there’s something so optimistic about the shared human/spider crew. I love Tchaikovsky’s depiction of it. On the other hand, this series has an extremely cynical view on humans, which Tchaikovsky needles his readers with to the point of becoming tiresome. Yes, yes, humans bad. There’s a lecturing undertone to the series that irritates me.

Tchaikovsky is very good in building alien civilisations, especially with alien mentalities and how it influences their communication. Those are the highlights of the book. The first-contact scenes are fantastic. But the story, while intellectually engaging, also left me bored. The human characters are very one-dimensional (the first book also suffered from that problem) and his writing is too wordy and descriptive. Characters are hardly allowed to interact with one another, so we don’t really get a good feeling for them, while the story is told in an endless, dispassionate word vomit.

The middle third of the book injects some horror elements to spice things up, but Tchaikovsky fills page after page with redundant descriptions of his characters’ emotions without ever breathing life into them. And then the final third sort of lurches towards a conclusion that takes far too many digressions to get to.

Besides some scientific concepts that we just need to accept to make these books work, it is very much a hard-sf kind of novel, including the typical tendency to focus so much on the ideas that the pacing and characters are just off. The ideas are great and I have never seen such imaginative histories of spider or octopus civilisations, and this series really impressed on me what a challenge and what a boon it would be to share the universe with other intelligent species. The series really enriched my imagination. But I couldn’t immerse myself in the story; I felt totally disconnected and the novel is too long to just push through without that immersion.

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16 Responses to Review: Adrian Tchaikovsky – Children of Ruin (2019)

  1. Ola G says:

    Ah, pity. I really liked Children of Time and enjoyed the spider characters immensely – but I felt it works very well as a standalone and that Tchaikovsky said all he had to say on this topic in this book. I was very surprised to hear that there’ll be a sequel – but not too surprised to hear that it’s far inferior to the first book.
    Fab review, Jeroen! Hope your next read will be better!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Andreas says:

    The book is buried on Mt TBR. I‘ll read other works by him first (though none so far had the magic of Children of Time for me). Rest In Peace, cute spiders!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. piotrek says:

    You, Sir, read serious stuff at impressive pace 🙂 I have this on my shelves, waiting, but haven’t even read volume one yet… and if I’m going to start Malazan, this isn’t going to happen this year.

    6.5 is still not a disaster, so I’m not putting the book on eBay just yet 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks! I just don’t have much of a life right now 😛 Struggling with a burnout like Andreas. Children of Time is very much worth it and if it grabs you, you might as well try the sequel too.

      So are you going to start Malazan? 🙂 I’ll be reading book 2 at the end of February.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. bormgans says:

    Never read the first, don’t think I will frankly. Something about the prose on the first page bugged me so I didn’t buy it. Your review of this isn’t an incentive either.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Bookstooge says:

    Good review. I too was totally disconnected and if it weren’t for the goo, would have dnf’d the book. As it was, I was EXTREMELY disappointed in the ending 😦 That was just a pathetic excuse for a happy ending….

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Pingback: Adrian Tchaikovsky – Eyes of the Void (2022) Review | A Sky of Books and Movies

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