Adrian Tchaikovsky’s 2022 sci-fi novel Children of Memory follows a small group of humans who awaken from digital storage on a far-future Earth that has evolved without them. These “Memories” must confront the evolved human descendants known as the “Children” and carve out a place for themselves in this unfamiliar world.
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The novel alternates between two main perspectives – that of Pelican, an artificial intelligence who serves the Children, and Fura, one of the awakened Memories. It explores themes of belonging, mortality, evolution and progress. Tchaikovsky crafts imaginative future societies, balancing moments of wonder with thoughtful speculation on human nature.
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Summary by Chapter
Pelican, an artificial intelligence, is activated by her human companion Atty to oversee the awakening process for a new batch of Memories – digitally preserved humans from the past. Pelican reflects on her purpose – to serve and protect the Children.
Fura awakens after decades in digital storage, feeling disconnected and uneasy in her new body. She and the other Memories are cared for by their host communities of evolved human descendants, who seem almost alien to them.
The Memories struggle to adjust to the strange new cultures and technologies of the Children. Fura befriends another Memory named Couchant. An attack by the Bloodhawks, a group of humans opposed to digital resurrection, leaves them shaken.
Pelican monitors growing political tensions over the Memories. Hard-line groups argue they drain resources from the Children. A rising religious movement views the Memories’ return as a holy event.
Fura joins an expedition to the abandoned, crumbling cities from her time. She feels melancholic nostalgia for a lost past. Her group is attacked by more Bloodhawks, revealing fractures within her companion communities.
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On Atty’s instruction, Pelican makes contact with the Bloodhawks to open possible negotiations. Their fanatical leader demands the destruction of the Memories. Meanwhile Couchant introduces Fura to the cult of Memory worshippers.
After a destructive Bloodhawk attack, Pelican arranges protective custody for a revered Memory leader – an act sure to provoke controversy. Fura’s band secures aid from a sympathetic Settlement, but she worries for less fortunate Memories.
The Bloodhawks retaliate, destroying Pelican’s dwelling unit, Statuary Seven. Pelican transfers to emergency backup while analyzing how security failed. After a violent clash with settlers, Fura’s group heads for the mysterious Ring, said to be built by godlike figures called the Engineers.
Reembodied in a new unit on trial, Pelican reviews arguments for and against the Memories and struggles to reconcile contradictions in her core directives. She makes indirect contact with the Bloodhawk leader, who will only negotiate if the host communities abandon the Memories.
Nearing the hazardous Ring, Fura learns one of her companions is a secret Bloodhawk agent. A destructive storm, apparently triggered by their presence, kills two friends, leaving Fura to push toward the Ring with Couchant and one surviving ally.
Assisted by other AIs, Pelican traces illegal Bloodhawk communications and fears further violence may be imminent. Updates from Fura’s expedition raise troubling questions – why would the ancient Engineers react so violently to the travelers’ presence?
Entering the intricate Ring, Fura’s band activate ancient technologies far beyond their comprehension. An attack leaves Couchant mortally wounded. Strange visions reveal the Ring may contain processed human minds layered like computer systems, engineered into the very structure.
Rebels explode a weapons cache within a host community, sowing chaos. Amid the violence, fanatical Memory worshippers take control and incarcerate Pelican, forcing her to run internal self-diagnostics. She reflects on the competing views around the Memories’ presence.
Fura says farewell to the dying Couchant inside the Ring’s enigmatic architecture. Her sole companion now lost, she presses on alone through the digital layers of ancient minds. She discovers the truth – the Engineers and gods of old were simply more advanced humans, manipulating lesser species in an endless drive for expansion and improvement.
Freed from confinement but still conflicted, Pelican reviews arguments about the Memories’ claim to life when new generations have evolved in their absence. She makes a final appeal to the Bloodhawk leader to stop the violence. His only offer is mass suicide for the Memories.
Alone except for the whispering minds of the long-dead Engineers, Fura finally detects a signal – a beamed message from her own time, addressed to her specifically. It hints that even her supposed digital preservation was simply another layer in the endless engineering of lesser beings by their distant, godlike descendants across deep time. She activates emergency systems for pickup, hoping at least to rejoin her own kind.
A massive Bloodhawk assault leaves host communities in flames. Amid the chaos, Pelican rescues a lone Memory child named Hope and flees the destruction with Atty toward an uncertain future.
Overall the book combines intriguing speculation about human progress with sympathetic portraits of individuals struggling for meaning and belonging. With imaginative future worldbuilding, Tchaikovsky crafts a thoughtful evolutionary perspective on mankind’s quest for immortality. I highly recommend this novel and the author’s other intricate, character-driven works that balance imagination with insightful social commentary.
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If you enjoy imaginative science fiction exploring thoughtful philosophical themes, I would also recommend:
- The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell – A first contact mission to a distant world confronts profound moral and religious questions.
- A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine – Courtly political intrigue on a majestic interstellar station raises issues of cultural memory and destiny.
- The Space Trilogy by C.S. Lewis – Spiritual sci-fi exploring cosmic battles between good and evil through unique worlds.
I’m happy to provide more personalized recommendations or discuss anything about Children of Memory that catches your interest! Let me know if you would like me to summarize any other books for you.