Children of Ruin by Adrian Tchaikovsky
Children of Ruin (2019) is the second book in Adrian Tchaikovsky’s CHILDREN OF TIME series, following Children of Time, which you’ll want to read first.
Children of time, which I called “an expansive and visionary epic that speculates about the future of humanity,” was fascinating. In it we watched the evolution of a species of spider that was uplifted by a man-made virus. The scientist who brought it to the terraformed but uninhabited planet had planned to uplift monkeys, but an accident resulted in spiders being uplifted instead. At the end of the long novel, humans finally arrived and befriended the spiders.
Children of Ruin begins generations later. Humans and spiders are working together to advance science, including how to understand and communicate better with each other. They’re also exploring the universe together. When they receive a communication signal from an unknown source, they set out to investigate.
The signal is coming from the remaining humans of a terraforming crew that set out from Earth thousands of years ago. When they arrived at the planet they were supposed to be terraforming, they discovered that there was already life there, and it’s dangerous and scary. But now they’ve got nowhere to go because they’ve been sabotaged and abandoned by Earth when the war cut off all space crews (we learned about this in the last book). They suspect that they’re the last humans in the universe.
Some of the crew decide to stay to catalog alien life on the planet while others go to a neighboring ice planet to start the terraforming project. Both of these projects take thousands of years to materialize, so the humans keep putting themselves into cold storage while they wait for results.
One of the human scientists, however, has an additional non-approved project going on. He’s uplifting octopi. This is quite cute and entertaining, but it has unforeseen consequences that will last generations. (Unnecessary and slightly snarky aside: Does this virus have a predilection for eight-legged creatures, or is that the author’s own predilection?)
Like its predecessor, Children of Ruin is a long slow epic with some big ideas (especially about biology, information storage, and evolution), some awesome scenery, and some terrifying alien life forms. In the last book, we watched evolution occur over thousands of years. This time we also get to watch the process of terraforming a planet. This involves doing things like building up greenhouse gasses and encouraging volcanic activity. I thought this was interesting and I learned a few things, too.
Readers who enjoyed Children of Time are likely to also appreciate Children of Ruin. Those who felt like the story moved too slowly are likely to feel the same way this time, too. I admit to becoming impatient with the general pace, the long discussions, and the fact that the story is a little too similar to that of the previous book’s. But I still admired the epicness of it. It’s also a timely read since it’s about the possible consequences of an evolving virus. That makes it even more terrifying. (For those of you reading this from the future, I’m referring to the 2020 world-wide coronavirus outbreak.)
Again I listened to the audiobook version, this time produced by Hachette Audio (Audible Studios did the previous book) but still pleasantly read by Mel Hudson. It’s 15.5 hours long. As I said in my review of Children of Time, this series will be most treasured by readers interested in biology, virology, information storage, evolution, anthropology, and sociology.