Children of Ruin by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Macmillan, 2019, 573 p.

This, the third of this year’s BSFA Award nominees for best novel I have read, is not exactly a sequel but does follow on from Children of Time, Tchaikovsky’s big hit from 2018.

 Children of Ruin cover

The story is told mostly in two strands, Past and Present. Past describes the landing on an alien planet (soon designated Nod) of an expedition from Earth sent to terraform it for future colonies. There is life there already (of strange radially symmetric organisms) and so the leader decides not to terraform Nod but to utilise another water bound world (Damascus) in the same system for that purpose. One of the expedition’s members, Disra Senkovi, has for a long time been working with octopuses to increase their intelligence and usefulness and so this compromise suits all parties. (Senkovi knows the plural ‘octopi’ – as opposed to octopuses – is incorrect but prefers it because he likes its sound and so, annoyingly, Tchaikovsky uses it in all the sections relating to him. At one point, though, Senkovi states ‘octopi’ is “even more incorrect” than ‘octopodes’ – which his boss prefers. ‘Octopodes’ is not incorrect at all, though. It is the Greek plural.) While in the system all communication from Earth ceases as a result of a devastating nuclear war and the expedition is left to itself. After a few years one of the expedition’s members is ‘infected’ by an organism from Nod, which encodes genetic information by the placement of individual atoms on ‘cell’ walls. This swiftly takes over the members on Nod and in orbit around it and sets out for Damascus where Senkovi’s insatiably curious octopuses have spread in its ocean. The vessel is shot down but lands in the ocean. Senkovi invokes a strict prohibition on the crash site, and on Nod itself. Many years down the line the octopuses have utilised the whole sea-bed and one of them ignores the prohibition. The infection spreads once more and the remnant octopuses are reduced to living in orbitals and spaceships.

In Present, Humans (as distinct from pre-uplift humans) and the uplifted spiders from the Kern’s World of Children of Time have detected radio signals from Past’s system and a mission has been sent to investigate. Much of this strand is devoted to the initial contact between Humans-and-spiders and octopuses, the clash between them over approaching whatever it is on the module left orbiting Nod and what is in Damascus’s ocean, the problems of interspecies communication, and the nature of the infecting organism.

Too much is told, however, not shown and Tchaikovsky doesn’t really inhabit the minds of his characters. (Okay, the mindset of spiders and octopuses, not to mention the Nod creature, may be a bit of a stretch but SF readers are used to alienness. It shouldn’t be a problem. In Children of Time the spiders weren’t.) While Children of Ruin does contain some interesting stuff the chunks of exposition and internal monologues can be hard going. Far from not being able to put this down I had difficulty in staying awake while reading it. And it is not short. I fear others have been swayed in their considerations of Children of Ruin’s merits by the relatively novel nature of its aliens.

Pedant’s corner:- “sixty-one degrees centigrade” (sixty-one degrees Celsius,) miniscule (x2, minuscule,) ‘his subjet species’ world view’ (species singular, so, species’s.) “None of them were” (none of them was,) “polarised Calcium ions” (calcium is not a proper noun, no capital C required,) “hoves onto view” (hove is past tense; ‘heaves into view’.) “A string …. rip through her hull” “a string … rips,) “how authentic the simulacra is” (‘simulacra’ is plural, the singular is simulacrum,) “reacted to different stimulus” (‘to a different stimulus’, or, ‘to different stimuli’,) sung (sang.) “None of the entities … are real” (None … is real.) “”Both of them tries to recruit him.” (Both try to recruit him,) childrens’ (children’s,) “the colours stabilize and compliment each other” (complement, and while we’re at it, stabilise. Please,) “And his are a passionate, mercurial people” (his is a passionate, mercurial people,) “anathema to their mind” (minds,) “a living compliment of one hundred and seventeen” (complement,) “a severe under-compliment” (under-complement,) “materials-salvaging” (was split over two lines despite materials being the first word on its line,) octopusus’s (octopuses’.) “Six-eighths of his cerebral capacity … are bent towards that one end” (six-eighths is less than one and hence takes a singular verb form, is bent.) “Two-eighths … remains” ([on the very next page!] does indeed, correctly, have a singular verb form,) “the females have found the thing containment” (????) “one faction has worked themselves up” (‘have worked themselves up,’ would be internally consistent with ‘themselves’ but ‘faction’ is singular so, ‘has worked itself up,) condusive (conducive.) “None of them pay any attention” (None … pays attention,) smidgeon (smidgin, or smidgen.) “The warship faction are making a” (is making.) “The science faction are singing” (is singing.) “The science faction are going to test” (is going,) “fit around” (fitted.)

Tags: , ,

Leave a Reply

free hit counter script