If you’ve read the first in the series, Children of Time, you’re in for a ride that is both familiar and brand spanking new. If you haven’t, don’t start here. Go back, and do it right. It’s so worth it.
Disclaimer: do not even read this review if you haven’t read the first book. I will avoid spoilers for this book, but not the first one.
Plot: We pick up with explorers from the Old Earth, Kern’s contemporaries are trying to terraform a world for human habitation. Then the luddites’ attack strands them in deep space and forces the experiment into overdrive. The only problem is that they are not the only ones interested in taking over Nod. So what will our intrepid Humans and Portiids find when they stumble on Nod a few thousand years later? Shenanigans ensue.
A friend of mine had a complaint about Children of Time. She complained that Portiid society felt too similar to human society. That it felt like anthropomorphizing rather than a real experiment in creating something truly alien. I have several lengthy, enthusiastic rebuttals, but at its core, this is not untrue. Portiid society has gone through many analogous stages of social evolution to humans society. If you held a similar disappointment over how similar Portiids are to humans, Children of Ruin is going to be your favourite book. Possibly ever. Of all time.
Because Tchaikovsky doesn’t give you an alien race with a fundamentally different evolutionary trajectory that results in something that requires significant expertise to even recognize it as a cognizant creature let alone figure out how to build bridges with them.
He gives you two.
And he does it with the sort of compassion and deadpan irony you’ve likely come to expect from his books.
I am not one to mark up books. Not for moral reasons, it’s just rare for me to think something is so brilliant I want to go read it again. I’ll generally highlight a sentence or two for use as a heading in my review, if that, and that’s it. Half this damn book is highlighted. There are so many clever turns of phrase, just precisely the exact right words at the exact right time. It’s so satisfying and why its taken me six damn months to finish reading it.
I struggle to think of anyone who loves science fiction not absolutely losing their goddamn minds over this book. And yes, I clicked off horror as a genre. Tchaikovsky experiments with horror in this one a la Alien with, as you might expect, a singular twist. I hate horror. I love this book. Take from that what you would.