Another great addition to the Children of Time series.


Tchaikovsky manages to surprise again. This book did not go as I expected it too, but it pleasantly surprised me with its mystery and drama.

I greatly appreciated the “almost knowing” feeling that I had the entire time. The book constantly hints at what’s going on, but only near the end is the true nature of things revealed, in a very Tchaikovsky manner.


Tchaikovsky’s writing, as usual, flows from the page in a very poetic manner, while still being clear. I’m not sure if I noticed this in the earlier books, but there was a definite edge of wit to the writing that I greatly appreciated.

I again enjoyed the many filosophical musings regarding sentience and idea-of-self and I loved meeting my old friends again from earlier in the series.

Because the real problem with a knowledge-based economy is knowing that, no matter how hard you try, most of the information in the universe has already dissolved into entropy before you even evolved. So much is lost that we will never know. Societies rise and fall, and everything ends.

The introduction of Gothi and Gethly, the two halves of one mind was a great mental exercise, but their interactions were so damn funny that I never minded that I couldn’t keep them apart. I’ve highlighted so very much in this book, mostly from Gothi & Gethli:

We are studying beetles. We are not supposed to be studying beetles. That is not what we are supposed to be doing at all. But there are new beetles and it is the new things that attract us. Not the point. Yet these beetles demand my attention and you are helplessly pulled along in my wake and so we are studying beetles. Sigh.

I even managed to highlight a whole chapter which is just their interactions after shit hit the fan, but it’s just so good, I had to listen to it multiple times:

Well that was novel and no mistake.
That could have gone better. And no mistake.
We have something to report.
We were too late though. Essence of comedy, isn’t it.
Tell you later.
What can we conclude, then, from all that outpouring of novelty we’ve just witnessed?
That it’s not my job to draw con—
Essence of comedy.
You’ve made that joke before. It wasn’t funny then, either.
You don’t understand any humour more complex than a pratfall.
Neither of us do, by definition. We’re not really sentient. It’s all just parrot, innit.
But without the resting and the lovely plumage.
More humour. And, as Herself has no sense of humour, I consider myself the sole arbiter on Imir. Even without true selfhood and sentience. By my own estimation, I am a hoot.
You don’t understand it either. You just understand that it’s a thing. We read about it somewhere. And because I can tell you how it used to work, you think you can do it. But you’re just going through the > motions. Humour is a human thing. Linguistic humour, anyway.
Don’t deny my lived experience.
You don’t have lived experience. That’s my thing. You’re just a mental parasite on the new things I learn.
I am a hoot.
That’s owls, anyway. An extinct Earth species absent from both Imir and Rourke. I think they have some where the Witch comes from.
The other place. The one she named after herself.
You shouldn’t call her the Witch. That’s impolitic.
It’s a new thing I learned from that girl Liff. It has overwritten previous designations. Hence: she’s now the Witch.
I’m not saying it isn’t a fitting sobriquet, but still . . .
Don’t you have conclusions to draw or something?
My conclusion is that we’re too late, what with the lynching and all. Everything’s degenerated into chaos. Which of course means . . .
It’s all newness and we’re practically starting from scratch. I know this is what we do but I feel my tolerances being pushed. Everything is changing so quickly down there. We’ve introduced a chaotic element > into a stable system and it’s causing a cascade of errors. Small changes leading to large changes leading to catastrophic ones such as we’ve just witnessed. Although under laboratory conditions I would be able > to follow the ripples back to pinpoint the origin of the change, in this case the various waveforms are interfering with each other to the extent that proper localization is impossible.
I protest. It’s not our fault at all. These people can get on and die out entirely without our help.
Yes, but now we’ve got involved they’re doing it differently. This wasn’t the way it would have gone. Perhaps only Same Day, Different Lynchings, but that’s still difference.
She is going to be so pissed if we have to start from scratch.
There’s a certain appeal to it, though, isn’t there?
Following the thread from the spool, waiting for the moment it deviates from what we remember. It makes me feel curiously fulfilled, Gethli. Doing what I was born for.
I’ll just sit here in the air like baggage, shall I?
Stop sulking.
Parasite that I am.
I’ll soon scare up some data for you and then you can get back to those conclusions you’re so fond of.
My premier conclusion is that it’s not going to be any better.
I’m not qualified to look for ‘better’. I’m just after ‘new’.
We are, at least, good at our job.
We are the eye with which the universe beholds itself.
Another human thing you don’t understand. What we are, as I well recall, is just a crust of a thing built up over the things humans left us with. We are little better than very complicated parrots, really. And > all the poetry you mouth you get from me, because it was in the archives back in Rourke. I read and digested it and now you’re deploying it as though it’s some argument-ending rhetorical tool. So don’t go > telling me you understand ‘poetry’. You just repeat the words.
Doesn’t everyone, Gothi?
I neither know nor care, knowing nothing of poetry. Honestly, things would have been simpler if we’d never learned how to talk like humans.
The red plague rid you for learning me your language!
Meaning what?
Meaning . . . a thing that a human wrote once that seems tangentially relevant, by context and linguistic pattern analysis, to the topic of our conversation. So I threw it in there to seem clever.
Meaning you don’t really understand and it’s all just parrot.
Meaning, in my very considered opinion, Gothi, that we can’t ever really know if we understand or not. It feels as though we do, up until the point that we’re challenged, and then the focus of our attention > shifts to the challenge and all that complex structure we were working on falls over like a house of cards.
A what?
No idea. Another human expression. Presumably relating to unsound structural practices and a violation of the appropriate construction codes. Would we pass the Turing test, Gothi?
Now that I remember. Herself is fond of mentioning it.
Because, though she’d never admit to it, in her lower moments she faces the exact same quandary. Does she actually think, to the standards of a human? Or does she believe she does through past programming but in > fact is nothing more than a very complicated difference engine? In the same way, do we think, co-dependent as we are? You with your infallible powers of recollection and recognition, and I with my incisive > analytical faculties? Is that truly enough to account for this conversation we’re having?
Bit one-sided for a conversation.
That is because we lack novelty for you to pick over. Speaking of which . . .
Time for us to do our job. Or go back to Herself and get another ticking off, and we’ve had quite enough of those in the past. Really very, very many of those.
Unappreciated, is what we are. Who else could sieve so vast a set of data in search of so little, ‘like two blind men looting a bazaar for their own portraits’.
Ah. Thought we’d had enough of that with what we’ve just seen. I’ll remember next time.

It’s a hoot.

World building

As ever Tchaikovsky creates wonderous worlds, with different paths of evolution and different results. All wrapped up in some very nice flowing writing with a witty edge:

So yes, the raccoons weren’t having a good time of it over on Rourke, but they lasted long enough to breed more raccoons who would continue not to enjoy themselves very much. Which was evolution’s endgame after all.


I very much enjoyed my time with this book and I hope there will be another.

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