Book review of Children of Ruin and Chlidren of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Book review of Children of Ruin and Chlidren of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky
Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

Adrian Tchaikovsky’s captivating science fiction books, Children of Time and Children of Ruin, transcend genre boundaries to offer a deep exploration of evolution, intelligence, and consciousness. There is a third part in the series that I haven’t read and don’t intend to. The trilogy’s world-building, thought-provoking themes, and grand space opera narrative makes it a must-read for software engineers and engineering leaders seeking more than just entertainment.


At the core of the story lies an exploration of adaptation and evolution. As humanity ventures to terraform distant planets, they encounter unique lifeforms on each world, forced to adapt and compete for survival. I imagined a parallel to this in the software development world, where constant adaptation and improvement are critical for success. Tchaikovsky’s vivid portrayal of diverse ecosystems and evolving species invites readers to imagine:

How can we create a culture of continuous learning and adaptation within our teams? The spider civilization in Children of Time demonstrates remarkable adaptability, constantly evolving their society and technology to meet new challenges. What practices can we adopt to encourage similar adaptability in our own organizations? How can we leverage diverse perspectives and approaches to problem-solving? The humans in the story interact with various alien species, each with unique strengths and weaknesses. This highlights the value of diverse perspectives in tackling complex challenges. How can we encourage and integrate diverse viewpoints within our engineering teams?

In Children of Time, humanity ventures to terraform distant planets, inadvertently seeding one with genetically engineered spiders. These spiders evolve rapidly, developing a hive mind and complex society while humans struggle to survive. Generations later, an emissary from the spider civilization, Portia, encounters a lone surviving human. Their friendship bridges the gap between their vastly different cultures, sparking a journey of collaboration. Whether the collaboration was fully in interest of all parties is up for debate among the readers. Meanwhile, a new threat to both species emerges, forcing them to unite in a desperate fight for survival.

The sequel, Children of Ruin, takes place millennia after the events of the first book. The spider civilization is thriving, and has engineered a collaborative co-operational existence – some might say subjugative – relationship with the humans. All the sentient creatures have evolved into a diverse multi-species spacefaring society with access to fragmented memories of their past encounter with each other. A cryptic radio signal draws a Portiid vessel to a new star system, where they encounter not the expected humans, but a strange civilization descended from octopuses1, genetically modified by long-lost humans on another terraforming project. As alliances form and mysteries unravel, a dark threat emerges, manipulating minds and technology across the galaxy. The Portiids, humans, and the octopus civilization must find a way to overcome their differences and unite against this unseen enemy, while grappling with questions of identity, legacy, and the true meaning of sentience.

From Alien Minds to Algorithmic Ethics

The series goes poses interesting questions about the nature of intelligence and consciousness. The rise of the spider civilization, with its distributed intelligence and hive mind mentality, challenges our anthropocentric understanding of these concepts. This made me wonder about a couple of points after completing the series. These also happen to be the strengths of the seirs:

The potential and limitations of artificial intelligence: The spider civilization’s collective intelligence offers a glimpse into the potential of advanced AI. What are the ethical considerations involved in developing and deploying such technologies? Redefining intelligence beyond human norms: The books challenge our assumptions about what constitutes intelligence. How can we broaden our perspectives to recognize and appreciate different forms of intelligence, both within and beyond human society? How can we leverage neurodivergence within our ranks as a strength and not as a differences that needs to be planed away. World-building mastery: Tchaikovsky creates diverse and believable alien ecosystems, immersing readers in the wonders and intricacies of each world. This vivid imagery provides a rich backdrop for exploring complex themes. Compelling characters: Despite their fantastical nature, the characters feel genuine and relatable, grappling with ethical dilemmas, survival instincts, and the yearning for connection. This emotional depth draws readers into the narrative. Thought-provoking themes: The series masterfully weaves philosophical questions into the adventure, prompting readers to ponder the nature of intelligence, consciousness, and our place in the universe. This intellectual aspect elevates the reading experience beyond entertainment. Normalization of diverse sexual identities and representation: The books feature non-heteronormative characters in a way that normalizes their existence and sexual identities. Their identities are not sensationalized or used as plot devices, instead being woven into the characters’ lives authentically. This representation can contribute to a broader acceptance and understanding of diverse identities in everyday life.

However, it’s important to acknowledge potential shortcomings:

Pacing and complexity: The narrative’s vast scope and world-building can feel overwhelming at times, requiring focused attention from readers. Characterization depth: While the main characters are well-developed, some supporting characters might feel less fleshed out, potentially leaving readers wanting more. Speculative elements: The fantastical nature of the story might not resonate with readers who prefer science fiction solidly grounded in reality. The books happen to be more in the ‘space opera’ genre.

Final Verdict

Children of Time and Children of Ruin stand out in the science fiction genre. The unique blend of action, philosophical inquiry, and world-building mastery put into creating them places them alongside classics like Foundation and Eternity series, staples of classic science fiction, for me.

Royalty-free header image from the book website.

  1. Octopi? Octopods? All appear to be technically correct. 


Shirish Pokharel, Innovation Engineer, Mentor

This is where all my quirky comments will go.