Children of Ruin by Adrian Tchaikovsky is the long-awaited sequel to the brilliant, award-winning Children of Time. Both books have several elements in common. For example, both books are centered on the development of non-human intelligences, the societies they form and tell the story of what happens when these intelligences interact with other extant intelligent life in the Universe. Time is another central element of both books, as the time scales on which the creatures evolve from being non-sentient beasts to full-fledged tool-using civilizations are quite long. Both technological advances and technological collapse also play significant roles in both books.
Children of Time was one of my favorite 5-star reads of the past few years so I was thrilled when I learned a sequel had been written. Although above I have spent a fair amount of time describing the many similarities the two books share, Children of Ruin is also different from its predecessor in multiple aspects.
The sequel is more complex in many ways. Instead of a primary conflict between two species, Children of Ruin features multiple 2-way and 3-way conflicts between various species, primarily because we are introduced to not one but two new sentient alien species, although it takes awhile for the reader to realize that is what’s going on. As with Children of Time, one of the novel (and exciting) aspects of the books is that for wide swathes of the story, humans aren’t really one of the intelligences involved in the conflicts. Instead it is their “children” who have been guided/led/uplifted to sentience who are the primary characters in the story. That is not to say that humans, or as the book says, “Humans” (indicating the remnants of humanity who have somehow escaped the collapse of Earth civilization and are now coexisting in symbiosis with one of humanity’s uplifted “children”), are not integral participants in the plot, because they are.
Due to the multifaceted nature of the inter-species conflicts in the book, communication and especially translation, is a key component of the plot. This is obviously difficult, especially between alien species engaged in first contact meetings and the author depicts the challenges well. The part of the book which I found disappointing (I think because I doubted their verisimilitude, which I know is a crazy thing to say in a science fiction book which posits multiple non-human animal intelligences as space-faring beasts!) was the depiction of artificial intelligence and virtual reality/cyberspace. I’m not sure why this was the case since these events occur so far in the future that computer technology could/should be so advanced as to resemble magic but my mind balked at the depiction of computer-mediated spaces that seemed magical or unconstrained by rules. This is somewhat of a minor quibble because the vast majority of the story is about the multiple conflicts between the uplifted intelligent animals and the newly discovered alien intelligences. It must be said that those conflicts are riveting and the resolutions are suspenseful and the paths to their conclusion are twisty and surprising.
Overall, I would say that Children of Ruin is a worthy successor to Children of Time, with aspects that are both superior and inferior to the first book. Happily, there are more of the former than the latter. But since my overall view of Children of Time was that it was a near-perfect standalone science fiction first-contact, alien civilization novel, this makes my overall review for its sequel less enthusiastic in comparison. However, Children of Ruin is still a significantly strong science fiction space opera, about multi-species conflict and alien contact and one I hope gets a sequel!
Title: Children of Ruin (Children of Time, #2).
Author: Adrian Tchaikovsky.
Paperback: 608 pages.
Date Published: May 14, 2019.
Date Read: August 5, 2019
GOODREADS RATING: ★★★★½☆ (4.5/5.0).
OVERALL GRADE: A- (3.67/4.0).