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Children of Memory (novel)

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Children of Memory
GenreScience fiction
PublisherPan Macmillan
Publication date
2022 (paperback)
Media typePrint (hardcover and paperback)
ISBN9781529087185 Search this book on .
Preceded byChildren of Ruin 

Children of Ruin is a 2022 science fiction and mystery novel by author Adrian Tchaikovsky, the third in his Children of Time series.


The story is primarily set on the Imir, a planet once designated for the Old Earth terraforming project. At a later point in time, when war and excessive resource usage had made Earth mostly uninhabitable, humanity sent out its ark ships in hope of settlement on different worlds. The Enkidu is among the very few spaceships that actually reach their destination.

At the end of Children of Ruin, the interspecies federation between Humans, Portiids, Octopus, and the parasite from Nod set out to find other sentient lifeforms and to study them closer. On Imir they find other human survivors. But their discoveries don't fully add up.


Part 1: The Ancient Mariner[edit]

2,600 years have passed since the Enkidu left Earth. The spaceship is about to arrive at its destination of Imir. The colonists started their journey with hope for a paradise, a planet like Earth used to be before their own time. Even though Kern's World was the only project that resulted in an Earth-like ecosystem, Captain Heorest Holt is determined to transform the planet for future generations to thrive on.

Part 2: To Darkness and to Me[edit]

Liff is a teenage girl that takes much pride in being the Holt's granddaughter. By her time, agriculture, forests, and livestock have made life on Imir possible. She dreams that her grandfather says goodbye to speak to the Witch he believes dwells in the woods. When she tries to find him, she meets two strange siblings called Gothi and Gethli.

Liff has a new teacher, Miranda, who claims to be from an out-farm. Her acknowledged mission is to find out more about the cultural significance of what the people of the Imir settlement of Landfall do and say. She is especially interested in what the locals call the "Seccers" and the "Watchers".

With her are Fabian, Portia, and Paul, which the reader recognizes as the names of protagonists of previous novels in the series. Apparently, the members of different species now live as humans among humans. To her Liff reveals that Gothi and Gethli are actually birds and Miranda appears to understand what she means by that.

Part 3: The World Tree[edit]

The Nodan parasite recounts the events of the first two novels. They are able to store the memories of their hosts and they are now capable to animate engineered bodies. Miranda is among those that gifted their minds and a copy of hers is part of the crew that will later discover Imir.

On their journey they landed on Rourke, another planet that was part of the terraforming project. There they were attacked by thousands of birds. Eventually, Gothi and Gethli approach them as their ambassadors.

Part 4: Mere Anarchy is Loosed[edit]

The two birds work for the Witch. They think that Liff might be special and they decide to bring the girl to her. The Witch is defended by the label given to her and it remains unclear what she is exactly. She has a clear demand, though: the wants Liff to identify those within her community that do not belong there. Liff refuses and is able to escape.

The Witch is not the only party that is after Miranda and her allies. The harvests on Imir are getting worse every year and there are attacks on the farms and houses. Militiamen are patrolling the streets. The outsiders – mainly immigrants from the out-farms – are held responsible. Miranda and the others are publicly executed when the First Tree became a gallows. Before their death they turn into the creatures that they really are.

Part 5: The Ravenssaga[edit]

The part recounts the species history of the Corvids. A woman named René was part of yet another research group charged with the terraforming of a planet, Rourke. Shortly after their arrival, a cyber attack paralyzed all their advanced technology. However, they are somehow able to survive and continue what has now become an attempt for their own survival. Many attempts were made to uplift the species they brought with them. Among them, only the cunning ravens survive.

When later Miranda, Avrana Kern (the AI originally copied from the main leader of the terraforming project), and the others came across this species, they struggle to decide whether the birds really are intelligent. What they do clearly demonstrate, though, is an exceptional ability of pattern recognition and problem solving.

Part 6: A World in a Grain of Sand[edit]

The narrative now talks of another iteration of the events on Imir of the present. Although the cause for the reset is not yet explained, the birds now explicitly state that they think that Liff might somehow be the key to escape the circle.

Part 7: Age Shall Not Weary Them[edit]

Some time earlier Miranda and the others arrive at Imir. They are surprised to find an ark ship intact, which indicates that the refugees from Earth survived. However, closer investigation of the ship investigation reveal that it's in a rough state and there are no signs of living inhabitants.

The signals they receive from the planet's surface indicate a low level of technology. However, they receive another signal that is evidently alien in nature.

Part 8: Look Upon My Works, Ye Mighty[edit]

Liff is increasingly confused by overlapping realities in her mind. In this iteration, she leads Miranda to the Witch and they accuse each other of keeping them in their current predicament. It's now openly stated that the Witch is actually Kern.

Liff's memory is fractured when she is reminded that her "grandfather" must have lived many generations ago. They are attacked by Kern who is somehow able to control the weather and also effects quakes under their feet. Miranda's own personality shatters when humanoid creatures emerge as repercussions from Kern's fury. One of the monsters identifies itself as Erma Lante, the former prime host of the Nodan parasite. Confronted with other aspects of the complex entity that is "herself", Miranda struggles to come to terms with what and where she is.

Part 9: Infinity in the Palm of Your Hand[edit]

After they found out about the alien signal, the other crew members accept Miranda's proposal to infiltrate the local community on Imir and find out more about them and about the other signal. The human population appears to be unaware of another party on their planet.

Part 10: Twilight of the Gods[edit]

They are now in an incarnation where Liff is a contemporary of her grandfather (i.e. he now really is her grandfather) and the other original settlers. Liff is approached by thousands of birds who demand that she finally tells her story in order for them to recognize the elements that don't genuinely belong to the narrative.

Miranda realizes that she – and only her – is the foreign matter. What she thought to be different persons (Fabian, Portia, and Paul) were in fact different personas of herself. Kern finally shows her what they had found, an alien device that extrapolates from data about Imir to simulate the experiences they had over and over again. That is, what chapter titles declared as "Imir, present" actually took place in a simulation.

Part 11: The Ferryman[edit]

The reader finally learns the real story of what happened to the Imir settlers (or at least so we are told). Captain Holt genuinely believed that they would be able to transform the planet into what they needed to survive and that they would eventually be able to revive the human cargo still sleeping on their ark ship. They were indeed able to survive for many generations, but eventually their surroundings were not able to sustain them. Things gradually got worse.

Much later Liff was born. She was actually the very last survivor, but purely by coincidence and without any greater significance to this fact.

Part 12: Nor the Years Condemn[edit]

After Miranda fully assimilated the tragic truth that her friend Liff and all the others were long dead, Kern asks her to visit Landfall with her. Miranda is confused that there are absolutely no signs that people ever lived there. Then Kern reveals that the "real" story we had just been told was not real in the usual sense of the word. The crew of the Enkidu never actually made it.

Major Themes[edit]

Simulation Theory and the Question of what is Real[edit]

Many dialogs in the story revolve around the question of what is (really) real. The big twists in the final chapters reveal that Kern, Miranda and the birds were trapped in a simulation. Intuitively, the experience they had only seemed real (but were not).[1]

This issue takes center stage in a conversation between Avrana Kern and Miranda at the very end of the book. They are not so much concerned with whether they had been living in a simulation all along (that all our "reality" is integrated in the simulation). They discuss whether Liff was real and/or whether Liff's experiences were real.

For Miranda – who thinks of herself as the real Miranda – the (seemingly) sentient experience of Liff in the simulation makes her real enough. For Kern – who thinks of herself as the real Kern – things are not so easy. Unlike in their own cases, there never was a "real" Liff, perhaps only an unrealized potential. So unlike the current incarnations of Miranda and Kern she is not the copy of a copy. Does this mean that she is less real than they are?

Yet, Kern thinks that "life" in the simulation would make herself more real than she is in her current state of existence. In some sense it provides her with a body in a world in which she can (in a sense) physically interact with other people and objects. However, the narrative doesn't propose a final answer on these issues.

The Nature of Intelligence and Thinking[edit]

The birds in the story learned to speak. When talking to (other) intelligent interlocutors they react with responses that appear fully appropriate at the given point of the conversation. Yet, the sense remains that all they do is complex parroting, that there is no essential difference to what their non-enhanced ancestors did back on Earth.

In a conversation they have with Kern (in chapter 12.3) they themselves liken their activity to talking computers. Intuitively, the ability to competently use language appears to be good evidence for (human) intelligence. Yet, if this behaviorist picture was true, then passing the popular Turing Test would tell us much about whether you would deal with an in intelligent agent. However, many frame the results of real-world Turing Tests as asking whether the computer could fool the interlocutor.[2] That is, they are not intelligent, they only seem so.

Throughout the book characters asks whether the birds truly understand what it is they hear and say. The behaviorist concept of intelligence (that is operationalized in the Turing Test) appears to be missing an element of real thinking. Like current-day computers they operate on the basis of complex pattern recognition.

There are two crucial differences, though. Unlike computers birds are biological beings that have not been programmed to do their analyses the way they do them. Moreover, the birds always come in pairs and for every pattern-recognition tool there is a problem-solving tool. However, this ability too differs from the logical reasoning by which humans commonly solve problems.

The question about the birds' intelligence is never conclusively answered in the story. In fact, the birds themselves propose that there are no truly intelligent beings at all and that all seemingly intelligent behavior is the output of computational processes of essentially a calculating engine. Some writers have observed that applications like ChatGPT already confront us with very similar questions.[3]


  • Miranda: She had once been a human who gifted her thoughts and memories to the Nodan parasite to be replicated. The main protagonist in the story is a copy of the human that once lived. On Imir she becomes the teacher of Liff.
  • Liff: A teenage girl that lives in the Landfall colony on Imir. She believes her grandfather, Captain Heorest Holt, left to live with a witch in the woods.
  • Avrana Kern: Originally, she was the head of Old Earth's terraforming project. To prevent her death, she stored her memories and personality in a computer. Many centuries later she is an AI fractured into many different versions. It's not obvious to what extent she is still the same person as she once was.
  • The Witch: Especially among the children of Landfall there are rumors that a mythical Witch lives in the woods and that she would be able to grant them wishes.
  • Heorest Holt: The captain of the ark ship that landed on Imir. Upon their arrival near the planet they picked up a mysterious signal from the planet. Even years after their arrival he still searched for the signal's origin. Some of his peers thought he became mad in old age.
  • Fabian: Previously a spider who works as a brilliant engineer in Landfall.
  • Portia: Previously a spider who works as a capable hunter in Landfall.
  • Paul: Previously an octopus who works as a painter in Landfall. He is mute and serves for children that represent the many brains he once had in his limbs.
  • Gothi and Gethli: A male and a female raven. She has exceptional pattern-recognition and memory abilities and he has exceptional problem-solving abilities.


The book's reception was mostly positive. Writing for The Guardian, Lisa Tuttle calls it "a thoroughly absorbing and enjoyable novel".[4] The Fantasy Hive writer T.O. Munro said that "Tchaikovsky’s writing is as usual, full of memorable lines, moments of insight, and sharp twists".[5] In an episode of The Ezra Klein Show, the host said that the novel provides "the best fictional representation (he has) read of what it is like to interact with, and perhaps even be, an artificial intelligence system like ChatGPT".[6]

For some reviewers, the pacing wasn't ideal. For instance, writing for FanFiAddict, Jared Besse said that "(m)uch of the philosophy and twists are towards the end of the novel. Some of the reveals that occur in the back half make the preceding pages feel like a bit of a waste." For SciFi Mind writer John Folk-Williams "there are long stretches that seem more like a Platonic dialogue on sentience and the nature of reality than fiction."[7]


  1. Nick Bostrom describes this point as different levels of reality: "If we are living in a simulation, then the cosmos that we are observing is just a tiny piece of the totality of physical existence. The physics in the universe where the computer is situated that is running the simulation may or may not resemble the physics of the world that we observe. While the world we see is in some sense 'real', it is not located at the fundamental level of reality." Bostrom, Nick (2003). "Are You Living in a Computer Simulation?". Philosophical Quarterly. 53 (211): 243–255. doi:10.1111/1467-9213.00309.
  2. Block, Ned (1981). "Psychologism and Behaviorism". Philosophical Review. 90 (1): 5–43. doi:10.2307/2184371. JSTOR 2184371.
  3. "Children of Memory by Adrian Tchaikovsky (Book Review)". The Fantasy Hive. 2023-01-17. Retrieved 2023-07-14.
  4. "The best recent science fiction and fantasy – reviews roundup". The Guardian. 2022-12-16. Retrieved 2023-07-22.
  5. "Children of Memory by Adrian Tchaikovsky (Book Review)". The Fantasy Hive. 2023-01-17. Retrieved 2023-07-20.
  6. Ezra Klein (2023-02-24). "Inside the Minds of Spiders, Octopuses and Artificial Intelligence". The Ezra Klein Show (Podcast). The New York Times. Retrieved 2023-07-22.
  7. "Children of Memory by Adrian Tchaikovsky for #SciFiMonth". SciFi Mind: Visions of Future Worlds. 3 November 2022. Retrieved 2023-07-20.

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