Children of Time (5*) and Children of Ruin (4*)

Books: Children of Time and Children of Ruin by Adrian Tchaikovsky

I have been excitedly waiting for Children of Ruin to come out in paperback because of how much I loved the first one. And since I apparently read the first one before I made this blog, now I am going to review the two together. As a warning, the review for Children of Ruin will contain some spoilers for Children of Time, so I would only read the review of the second if you have read the first one.

“You can never know. That is the problem with ignorance. You can never truly know the extent of what you are ignorant about.”

Children of TimeBasically this book was sold to me a civilisation of sentient spiders in space and that alone made me desperate to read it. Weird fact about me, I adore spiders, have done since I was 7 when I got to hold a tarantula. So a book that basically makes spiders smart, point of view characters with their own motivations and goals was definitely something I knew I wanted to read. This was in fact the first book by Adrian I ever read and now I have an ever growing pile of his stuff because he writes some compellingly he’s on my ‘must buy’ author list.

If you yourself are an arachnophobe and are thus unsure about reading this book, I cannot speak for the particular way your phobia works, but I will say that we read this book for my book club and we had several arachnophobes in the group and not only did they very much enjoy the book, but they actually found themselves rooting for the spiders! This, to me, is the ultimate testiment to the power of Adrian’s writing, he has an absolute gift to make characters who are distinctly alien in their ways of thinking and yet still very relatable. This book is the best example of him doing this that I have currently read.

Anyway, I have said all that and not even really gone into the actual plot of the book (oops). The premise is that in the last era of Earth, various scientists went out to try and terraform worlds into places fit for human habitation. One of these, Avrana Kern, was a genius who was not trying to terraform a place for humans, but instead was trying to uplift monkeys and bring them sentience and gift them with a new world all of their own. Something goes wrong though and the monkeys are killed, but the virus meant to uplift them still works on the terraformed world, instead, slowly through generations, lifting the arachnids and other creatures to sentience instead.

“Life is not perfect, individuals will always be flawed, but empathy – the sheer inability to see those around them as anything other than people too – conquers all, in the end.”

In the meantime a starship of survivors leaves Earth, heading out to the world that has been terraformed and had the uplift virus applied to it. They need to find a new place to live and are not expecting it to be already inhabited by a sentient species. Can the two civilisations find a way to work together or will there be conflict between them?

The book switches between seeing the development of the arachnid civilisation and the problems they face in their expidited evolution and with the crew of the human ship that is trying to find a new home. The main crew of the human vessel stays the same for the most part, due to them spending long periods in stasis, but the spiders change between generations, though a naming convention is kept the same which gives a sense of continuity in some ways.

As mentioned before, one of the things I love about the book is how well Adrian makes non human beings seem like people and it really makes the book stand out. It also deals with a host of social issues as well, from the internal ones in the arachnid civilisation, to the ones that the humans are fleeing from and going towards. At its heart it is an excellent exploration of the nature of what it is to be a person and what people would and should do in the pursuit of survival.

There is honestly so much I could talk about that I am struggling to work out what I should say and what basically would give too much of the book away to do so. Basically, this is one of the best bits of science-fiction I have read in recent years and honestly there is no one I wouldn’t recommend this book to (unless you are the sort of arachnophobe who absolutely cannot deal with spiders in any way, in which case, this book is sadly not for you).

“An inclination to play God was part and parcel of wanting to go out and terraform other worlds, but good practice was to at least play nicely with the rest of the pantheon.”

Children of Ruin

And now we come to the sequel: Children of Ruin. Like I said I had been looking forward to this one since I heard that he was writing a sequel and waiting for it to come out in paperback was an absolute trial let me tell you!

If you have not read the first book, please stop reading now, this will otherwise have spoilers for the end of that book and I don’t really want to do that so please be warned!

One of the things that appealed was the fact that this one was going to involve sentient octopi (he even acknowledges the scientific argument about what you actually should call a group of them and that was honestly a wonderful little nod). I am a fan of these beautiful and remarkably smart creatures and I definitely wanted to see what sort of culture he would develop for them.

The story follows on where the first book left off, with a ship crewed by a mix of humans and portids heading off to investigate other areas where human terraforming was meant to have been taking place. Interspersed with us following their journey and discoveries we get to see the stories of both the human terraformers who were working a planet in the area and also their investigation into the life that already existed on one of the planets in the system. One of the terraformers is the one who uplifts the octopoids to help with work on the water planet.

We do get some of the same development as done with the portids in the first book, but not to the same degree, we learn a lot more about their society from their interactions with the human/portid crew than we do from the flashback parts of the story.

One of the things I think Adrian pulled off really well in this book is making the true aliens, exceptionally so. The way they think and act is very, very different to humans and even to the other uplifted species that the series has introduced us to. They come across as truly creepy and terrifying in a way that may well give you nightmares. I will honestly never hear the words “we’re going on an adventure!” in the same way again.

The book, like the first one, still deals a lot with the idea of finding commonalities between very different species. There are a lot of issues between the humans/portids and the octopoids because they think in very different ways and I especially loved the difficulties they had in learning to communicate with each other and the misunderstandings it inevitably caused.

I didn’t quite love this book as much as the first, it’s hard to exactly put my finger on why because it is also very good. I think it might just be that the way it is structured doesn’t quite work for me in the same way as the first book did. There isn’t quite as much learning how the octopoids developed, or maybe not even that but the fact that the structure is more split up between three different groups/timelines and that meant I didn’t quite have as much attachment to the people or what was going on as I had the first time around.

That is the only real complaint I might make against it though, the book is a very worthy sequel to the first one and if you loved the first one then I do highly recommend that you get this one too. Some of my friends actually preferred this one to the first one, so you may even find yourself in that category. And let’s face it even if, like me, you don’t think it quite measures up to the first one, a slightly worse book than Children of Time is still a book that is vastly better than many books you could buy.

Come Tumbling Down (4*)

Book: Come Tumbling Down by Seanan Mcguire

Well hello folks, sorry for the recent quiet, as I am sure all of you are aware things have been a bit… well… stressful with the whole pandemic situation and all. I hope you are all well and taking care of yourselves. Personally I am working from home and haven’t left the house much in the last week (I am slightly more at risk than most, but not worryingly so). I am worried about friends and relatives though, I have a fair few people who are high risk and it has made focusing on this harder.

But I want to catch up on reviews, I think it will be a good way to keep myself busy so here’s the first of them, I should have reviews for A Memory Called Empire and Children of Time/Children of Ruin shortly. With any luck the lockdown might at least help me work my way through my stack of unread books!

No one should have to sit and suffer and pretend to be someone they’re not because it’s easier, or because no one wants to help them fix it.

ComeTumblingDownRight, Come Tumbling Down is the latest Novella in Seanan Maguire’s Wayward Children series. In this book we see Jack return to the school in dire straits and in need of help from those there. A group are gathered together and they head with her back into the Moors, to deal with her sister once and for all.

For a novella, I have to say that the pacing in this book is handled rather well. I am getting more used to the speed in which things happen in this sort of format, but even with that some of them tend to end abruptly, but this felt like the build-up to the end made sense for the story and worked rather nicely.

I fell rather in love with the Moors, both from what I learned of the place in Every Heart a Doorway and also from the more full backstory that is Down Among the Sticks and Bones, so I was delighted by that being the primary setting for this book as well.

It’s interesting that the series seems to alternate between stories set at and around the school, and the back stories of various of the characters. I definitely did enjoy the feeling of follow on this book gives, where previously the stories often felt more loosely connected to each other. Which isn’t to say I haven’t enjoyed the background stories, I have, but this story makes it feel more like a definitely series rather than books just set in the same setting.

Sometimes heroism is pressing on when the ending is already predestined… Sometimes a hero has to fall.

I mentioned before that I love the Moors, a lot of this is because she evokes all the creepy glory of the old hammer horror movies with an excellent eye. The drowned gods in her Moors world are very evocative of Lovecraft, and the classic vampire and mad scientist tropes are also very much present and in excellent form. It’s interesting to me how the morality is played with as well, Jack is not quite portrayed as the “good guy”, just the “not quite as bad as the other guy.” Also, a lot of those characters are anti-hero tropes with very masculine bents to them, so this is a refreshing change to all of that.

As can be seen from the quotes I have mentioned in this review, as well as what you can find by looking on Goodreads, Seanan has a wonderful turn of phrase when it comes to her characters, or the narration, talking about various aspects of the human condition. This story contains elements of showing the fallout that can happen from pushing people in directions they don’t want to go, to be people they don’t want to be. It shows what it can be like to have toxic people in your life who are family and who you love despite all the pain and suffering that they may have caused you.

Cutting people out who hurt you is a good thing to do, I don’t believe that reconcilliation is always possible, or even always wanted, and I like that Seanan is not afraid to confront that sort of thing with her writing. This story shows something of the differences between a family you build for yourself and the one you are born into. The first can often mean a lot more than the second. As someone who is a massive fan of found families, I love that thread that runs throughout all of this series.

Honestly I cannot wait to find out what the next story is going to be about and where else this is all going to go as there is so much more that she can explore with this setting and the characters in it, though I understand from her Twitter that we may be waiting a while before we get Cade’s backstory due to her wanting to be sure that her audience can trust she can handle a transition story respectfully. But whatever the next story will be, you can guarantee I am going to be buying it!

The Silent Companions – 4*

Book: The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell

I bought this book after meeting the author and listening to her doing a reading of her new book, The Corset, at a Super Relaxed Fantasy Club meeting. I don’t read much horror these days but I do love gothic novels full of weirdness and this promised to deliver so I picked it up.

The book follows the story of Elsie and covers multiple timelines from her current life inside an Asylum, to her past spent in the ancestral home of her late husband. The book slowly unravels what happened to Elsie that led to her current state and it does so whilst building up wonderful atmosphere and suspense.

One of the reasons I don’t read much horror is that I am very much a fan of subtle is better. Where you may see monsters or know for sure exactly what is going on with no questions left unanswered, I will often feel dissatisfied as a result. I am the same with horror movies, usually the second I see the creature I am bored. So this book was a lovely, refreshing change where I found out bits and pieces of the puzzle but still had unanswered questions at the end in ways that leave a shiver down your spine.

Also I love that the story is centred around the tales of women and for a horror story to do that without sexualising what happens to them or being full of many other irritating tropes was a joy.

So I loved this one and I am definitely going to be picking up The Corset when it’s out in paperback. If you like more nuanced horror that leaves you unsettled and wanting more then this is worth a look.

The Sudden Appearance of Hope – 5*

The Sudden Appearance of Hope by Claire North

This is me trying to get through my backlog of books I have read this year but haven’t reviewed yet. This one I bought back in February at SFXCon after I met the author and decided she was cool and I wanted to get something and get it signed and this one stood out to me from the books on offer.

It’s a story about a woman who everyone forgets, the amount of time it takes her to be forgotten depends on how long the interaction has been but as soon as she is out of sight the process starts and after a short while they have removed all memory of those interactions. Given it’s hard to hold down a job or a place to live when everyone forgets you, she makes her way in the world as a thief. The story takes place with the rise of a social media device that aims to make people “perfect” and she gets involved with someone who wants to bring that device down.

I don’t want to go into much more detail than that because otherwise it will get too spoilery so instead I am going to gush about some other things instead.

Basically I loved this book, one of the best things I have read this year. The writing style is very interesting, there are a few places in the book where she plays with how the words are written on the page to invoke certain feelings and effects and it really works. The language is also lovely and evocative and results in a very clear idea of who the character is and isn’t.

Also, how often do we get to see a book with a female protagonist who is a thief and yet still has a clear moral code despite her situation in life and the aching loneliness that is forced on her. Hope is a flawed person portrayed in a very realistic way and you find yourself desperately rooting for her and the ending of the book is both lovely and also in some ways still unexpected.

Seriously, read this book because it is wonderfully written and carries you along with it through a fascinating and very well crafted story.

The Hate U Give – 5*

The Hate U Give (THUG) by Angie Thomas

So this is a break from my usual Fantasy and Science-Fiction reads, but I have been wanting to read this book since I first read about it and with the film coming up soon I bumped it up my reading list so I could read it before I see the adaptation.

Firstly I want to say that the fictional take on a subject which I seem to read about more and more is not an easy read, but it is definitely worth reading. I am white, I am British, the experiences in this book are pretty far from mine. I have read about various police shootings in America, I have even read things about police violence in Britain too, but it’s not something I am likely to experience first hand but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try and understand it.

I think it’s really important to read the stories of people with experiences you will never have and this was a powerful one. It’s easy to judge situations from the outside of them. To fail to understand why poverty and oppression can make entire communities places of rage and pain. I’ve never had to be afraid of the Police, I’ve never had to be afraid of people in my own neighbourhood but this book gave me a window into the lives of people for whom that sort of thing is a painful reality.

The story deals with the shooting of a young, unarmed black man from the perspective of the young woman who was his friend and companion at the time. It shows you her life, the life of people in her family and how what unfolds affects them and their wider community.

I saw a review of this book on Goodreads where a white guy had a massive rant because at one point in the book one of the characters makes a comment to a white character about how he cannot really understand their experiences and how this was massively racist and unfair.

Look, fellow white people. I get that hearing people who are oppressed rag on your skin colour in general can hurt your feelings and make you defensive. If you are male and straight then it is likely that you have never really had the sort of experiences that generate this sort of rage and no, that is not your fault, but also remember that the rage isn’t really directed at you, but at institutions that you benefit from without realising it.

I get that angry about feminist issues for similar reasons, so whilst I have not experienced racism and oppression related to it, I do know what it feels like to walk the world as a woman and to have to deal with that set of issues. Different experiences but the rage is very similar.

So please, give this book a chance. Not just that, read widely into the subject matter of police shootings. Don’t just assume the person shot did something to deserve it, to cause it. Don’t dismiss the pain and rage of the communities where this keeps happening. Listen to them, really listen and then ask how you can help and do what they say.

I am tired of this world not being as wonderful as I know it can be. I am tired of us treating each other like shit for arbitrary differences that we have no control over (you can control your opinions so please don’t assume I mean it’s OK to be a bigot, it’s not).

Read this book, watch the film, learn and then act on that and maybe, just maybe we can all do a little something to stop this shit from happening.

Writing Update 1

On Tuesday I attended my third Super Relaxed Fantasy Club meeting. This is a group in London where every month 2-3 authors come do readings from their work and answer questions. There is also socialising. It is attended by quite a few published authors, plenty of writer, agents, editors as well as people who just love to read.

I am very much enjoying it, it gives me a chance to socialise with people who are doing what I want to do, perhaps get assistance with my goals and also get introduced to new and interesting sounding Fantasy and Science-Fiction books.

This month was readings by R J Barker, Anna Spark Smith and Jane O’Reilly. I had met Anna briefly before at SFX Con earlier this year and we got to have a slightly longer chat this time, most about neurodiversity and such, and I got my copy of The Court of Broken Knives signed (I am reading it at the moment).

R J Barker was hilarious, the reading was really engaging and it was lovely to meet him. We were talking about Leeds as that is where some of my family is from and where he lives, including how weird looking Armley Prison is. I bought the first book of his trilogy, Age of Assassins, got it personalised (he had signed them already) and have added it to my ever growing unread book pile.

The last author writes space operas and her work did sound interesting and I may look into it in future, but I decided to be good and not add it to the pile for the moment.

Yesterday I turned up to my first meeting of a writing group based in a bookshop in Wood Green. I heard about it from the book shop owner at Nine Worlds and decided to go along. I was a bit nervous, but there are other Sci-Fi/Fantasy writers there and people were plenty friendly. I didn’t do any readings this time, but I shall next time as the feedback seemed really good and I think it could be very useful to me to see what non Sci-Fi/Fantasy people think of my stuff.

I also think I have gotten around a 1000 words written this week and I am hoping to get more done over the weekend if I can manage it. So some progress there. I have also set myself up a Facebook group for the people who volunteered to do Beta reading for me and have even given them a short story I wrote a while back to look at.

Things are happening then and I am feeling pretty positive at the moment, let’s hope I can keep it up!

In future I am going to do some reviews of things I have been reading too, probably not intense critiques, but more what I liked and didn’t, with a likely feminist eye cast over them as well so look out for those in future.