Today was a bad day, probably the worst mental health day I’ve had since … well, since before Mom died, honestly, because for most of the time since then I’ve been busy and it’s been keeping the demons away, so to speak. But everything hit me like a ton of bricks this morning as I was getting ready for work and I just couldn’t cope today. I’ve spent most of the day either asleep or staring mindlessly at TikTok, which isn’t something I should ever be doing.
I don’t have the headspace for a full review right now, but if you’ve been paying attention you know what a fan of Adrian Tchaikovsky I’ve become since discovering his work last year. I finished his book Spiderlight (dude loves his spiders) yesterday. It’s high fantasy as opposed to the hard sci-fi of Children of Time and Children of Ruin, and it’s … really different. Bits of it almost come off as parody, particularly chapter titles, but there is some really interesting character work and examination of the typical fantasy dark vs. light trope going on in there that makes the whole book absolutely worth checking out. This is going to start off looking really straightforward and then by the end of it is something very different, and I liked it a lot, but not for the same reasons I liked his other books. I know he has a several-book megaseries out there somewhere; I should probably get around to reading that soon. The guy’s the real deal.
I never got around to writing a post yesterday, at least partially because I spent damn near the entire day with a book in my hand. First off: Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Children of Ruin, which I started a few days ago and finished the last 200 pages or so of yesterday. I’ve already reviewed the first book in this series (I don’t know if there are more planned; they are stand-alone enough that there doesn’t have to be, but sci-fi and fantasy writers tend to think in terms of trilogies or longer, so…) and Children of Ruin is every bit as strong of an effort as the first book. I read a lot, y’all know that, as this year the blog has really morphed into a book review site, and if there is another author out there who writes genuinely alien cultures better than Adrian Tchaikovsky does I’m going to need you to let me know who they are right now. As it is, the guy’s got another book on my shelf and a ten-book series that I’ve never read and another trilogy, so I’ve got enough books by him out there to last me a while, and believe me, I’ll be getting to them. This book adds two different alien species, one an octopus-based intelligence and the other … well, there’s another, and I feel like discussing it is a spoiler, to the human and spider cultures from Children of Time, and it’s amazing how differently each of them feel. He’s got a great knack for the little stuff, and I’m glad that I sort of cheat with my end-of-year list and put sequels and main books on the same spot on the list, because otherwise that job would be even harder than it’s going to be already.
(An example: at one point one of the octopodes makes reference to 6/8 as a fraction. At first the math teacher in me was mildly annoyed by the fact that he didn’t reduce the fraction, and then it hit me– the damn things have eight legs, so of course they use base-8 mathematics. He could have just used percentages and left this out, but he didn’t. That kind of thing.)
Anyway, if for some reason you haven’t read this series yet, get on it.
Meanwhile, don’t ever tell me that Twitter doesn’t sell books. I don’t know off the top of my head how long Daniel M. Ford and I have been mutual follows, but it’s been a while, and for some reason one of his tweets caught me at the exact right moment a few weeks ago and I ordered one of his books. Now, this is always a tricky thing for authors, and I think most of us have learned that even if we find out that a fellow writer has ordered one of our books, you never, ever ask if they’ve read it yet or what they thought. I absolutely hate it when I don’t like the books of writers I know, particularly indie writers (Dan writes for an independent publishing house, but I don’t know that he’d style himself an “indie author,” at least not the same way I do) and there’s always some trepidation whenever I start to read the book because of that, especially since I record everything I read on Goodreads and people tend to notice. Another issue in this case was that the book is a detective/procedural mystery, a genre I dabble in from time to time but am not generally a huge fan of.
I, uh, read the book in a single sitting, starting it around 8:30 last night and finishing it just after midnight, and I’ve already preordered the sequel and ordered a copy of the first book of his fantasy Paladin trilogy. So, yeah, I guess I liked it. The real victory here is the main character himself, Jack Dixon, who lives on a houseboat and thinks apples and protein-infused peanut butter measured precisely by the tablespoon counts as a meal, and yet who somehow felt like a real person who I knew within a chapter or two of the start of the book. I am typically more story-focused than character-focused as a reader, but Jack’s persona is compelling and clearly-drawn enough that I want to know more about him. Ford’s lean-and-clean, no-frills prose is perfectly suited to writing a detective novel, too; it’ll be really interesting to see how he handles a fantasy novel, which tend a bit more toward the flowery. My only gripe is that the ending felt a bit abrupt to me– the actual mystery is solved around the 80% mark and the end of the book is more like a coda and setup for the next book than anything else, but as there is another book coming it’s not as big of a weakness as it might be as a pure standalone.
It is hyperbole, but only by a little bit, to state that I have hated every second of 2019. I won’t go into the details; if you’ve been reading here for a while and especially if you follow me on Patreon you know a lot of them by now, but this has been the single worst year of my life by a wide margin and there are still four fucking months of it left.
The one shining bright spot of 2019 has been the books I’ve been reading. Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Children of Time was number ninety, I believe, and it is the book that convinced me that my traditional end-of-year top 10 list is probably going to have to be pushed to fifteen this year. It was effectively a random buy; we took my son to Barnes and Noble to spend some money on him for his birthday and it jumped off the shelf at me. I will own the sequel by the end of the weekend.
Children of Time is a post-apocalyptic, more or less post-human novel set in two places: a green planet far from Earth and an ancient, decaying generation ship containing what are, as far as the occupants know, the last few thousand members of the human race. It takes place over centuries if not actual millennia– the time scale is kept fuzzy, and the human characters’ ability to put themselves into cryogenic storage until the next event that causes them to need to wake up allows the timeline to be pushed well beyond the human lifespan. At the very beginning, a human scientist attempts to seed the green planet with primate life and with a nanovirus that will tailor their evolution over the years to produce sentient life on the level of human beings. Something goes terribly wrong, and the proto-primates are lost, but the nanovirus is not … and it settles into a species of spider instead. The book tells two parallel stories: the slow evolution of the spider species and their eventual rise to supremacy on their planet, a story that takes place over many generations and thus has many different “main” characters for each part of the book, most of whom are named “Portia,” basically for narrative convenience, and the remaining humans on a generation ship called the Gilgamesh, a cultural reference they have long since forgotten the meaning of. Eventually, the two discover each other’s existence, and while there is conflict, it doesn’t work out the way you think it will, and the final resolution was so simple and elegant that it blew me away.
It is– and this is the entire review, so pay attention– one of the most fantastically inventive things I have ever read. That should be clear just from the plot summary, right? You already know you need to read this book, and you should go get it right now and get started. I know, I know, I’m prone to hyperbole, I start the review off with hyperbole and I mention my tendency toward hyperbole in damn near every positive review I write. But this book is really something special, y’all. You owe it to yourself to read it.