In Adrian Tchaikovsky’s 2015 novel ‘Children Of Time’, we followed some of the descendants of humanity as they travelled among the stars on voyages of hundreds or thousands of years, looking for earlier colonies of humans that had been sent out from a now dead Earth. This sequel, ‘Children Of Ruin’, follows a similar format, alternating the account of one of the early exploratory and colonisation missions, with a follow-up mission that arrives in the same system thousands of years later.
Just as with that first book, Adrian Tchaikovsky has done a masterful job of developing a totally alien-seeming culture based on a species from Earth. Last time it was spiders, probably the species humans in general would have the most difficulty in developing friendly relations with. This time it’s octopuses, a creature that even now is recognised as having a high level of intelligence but that also seems strangely alien. Just as with the spiders in ‘Children Of Time’, the development of the octopus civilisation and technology is progressed along convincingly unhuman lines, exploring how they would think, interact and communicate. The uniqueness of both civilisations developed in these novels is comparable to Vernor Vinge’s ‘A Fire Upon The Deep’ and ‘A Deepness In The Sky’, which have a similar scale of grandeur, inventiveness and sheer genius.
The ‘historical’ sections of the book follow the small crew of the Aegean who arrived at a planet targeted for terraforming, only to discover it already harbours life. The personalities of the highly intelligent, educated and independent crew are nicely developed as they come to terms with the change in their mission parameters, the loss of communication with Earth and the loneliness and isolation of their job. Desra Senkovi turns to his pet octopi as a distraction and the beginnings of a similar process to that which uplifted the arachnid Portii species to sentience in the previous book starts to take shape. There are several nods to other SF authors in this book, notably the Brin habitat named, presumably, after David Brin, author of the ‘Uplift’ series.
The wildlife discovered on the original target planet is interestingly described, through the eyes of a crew from whom cataloguing an alien biosphere plays second-best to their original ambition of terraforming a planet. The clash of biologies and ultimately of cultures, makes the whole book fascinating. There are some wonderfully complex scenes of attempted communication between arachnids, humans, AIs, octopodes and others that I shan’t mention for fear of spoiling the plot. The vastly different thought processes, outlooks and modes of expression make it far more complicated than merely translating from one language to another.
This is a book with a vast scope in terms of timescale and cultural ambition and it does a great job of exploring a culture and mindset that is totally different to mankind. I enjoyed it a lot and it made me want to go away and think some more about how I could describe a truly alien culture in one of my own stories.
Gareth D Jones
(pub: TOR-UK/Pan Macmillan, 2019. 576 page hardback. £18.99 (UK). Price: £18.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-50986-583-3)
check out website: www.panmacmillan.com