Children of Ruin by Adrian Tchaikovsky
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is a very ambitious hard science fiction novel in what I would term the "classic" mold--full of Big Ideas and oozing Sensawunda. It's a fat book with unfortunately a bit of sag to the middle, and some of the characterizations were a bit lacking. I would say I liked and admired it more than I loved it.
It's the sequel to Children of Time, but I had no difficulty following along with the story. A story, by the way, that stretches for more than ten thousand years, with two storylines, Past and Present, that eventually come together in a rip-roaring finale. This is not blasters, laser burns and blood. Quite the opposite--the last, hardest obstacle to overcome is learning to communicate. As in, learning to communicate with A) an uplifted species of sentient, space-faring octopuses; and B) an alien slime mold that has been infected with the same uplifting virus at the octopuses, and courtesy of taking over a few human brains, has absorbed their personalities and now wants to go on an adventure. Said alien slime mold has to be taught to leave other beings alone and share the adventure rather than absorbing everything it comes across.
The author shines in constructing his far-future cultures and societies, in particular the arachnoid Portiids (which is why I ordered the first book, to find out more about them). The octopus society, while masterfully drawn and as far as I know true to the species, is a little more off-putting due to the simple fact that as set up, the society focuses more on groups and factions (Science faction, War faction) than individuals. It's hard to relate to them, which in no manner takes away from the author's depiction of such an alien way of thinking and communicating. The giant (like a cat with eight legs) sentient spiders, the Portiids, were far more interesting to me. Even the alien slime mold takes on its own character after it settles down and stops sucking up everyone's brains, as shown in the Epilogue where they are a part of five species (including "a wholly unexpected collision between a corvid genome and an alien molecular catalyst"--tell the crow/raven story next, please!) exploring the galaxy.
This book has a slow, deliberate pace, which seems necessary to accommodate its many ideas. It also uses multiple POVs, which is also necessary but which I am less fond of. The spiders (particularly Fabian) were the best characters. The plot does slow down in the middle, which might test some readers' patience, but everything picks up as it comes together in the end. This book didn't quite tip over into love for me, but I can see how many readers would squee over it.
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