Fiction Reviews

Lords of Uncreation

(2023) Adrian Tchaikovsky, Tor, £22, hrdbk, xv+ 608pp, ISBN 978-1-529-05198-8


Lords of Uncreation is the concluding novel in prolific author and recent BSFA award winner Adrian Tchaikovsky’s 'Final Architecture' trilogy (after Shards of Earth and Eyes of the Void) – a space opera on a galactic scale with alien threats, weird science and extensive, book-spanning action sequences. It’s a pacy, unrelenting, driving narrative with quirky, engaging all-action heroes and malevolent, brooding bad guys. In other words, it takes a formula, distils it to its essence and runs with it. Don’t come to this one looking for subtlety or nuance – but it does what it does well, and I’m sure the film rights have been snapped up already.

As is the way with this type of novel, the stakes are high. Set in the mid-distant future, many of the inhabited planets across the galaxy have been reshaped into sculptures by a mysterious and uncommunicative set of ancient aliens known as the Architects, who appear out of ‘unspace’ (a kind of wormhole) forcing populations to flee as their worlds become uninhabitable. Earth is one of the planets destroyed by the Architects and humanity (as well as many other species) survives in small, easily moveable colonies on hidden worlds and on large ‘Ark’ ships.

Previous novels established that some people – Ints (intermediaries) – can sense the Architects and predict their arrival – and in some cases can partially communicate with them, occasionally persuading them to return to Unspace. There is speculation that something greater and more malevolent lies behind the Architects, and the key to ending the conflict is tracking them down.

The protagonists are primarily the crew and associates of the Vulture God, a salvage ship, and include one of the more skilled Ints, Idris Telemmier, a disabled but exo-skeleton enhanced engineer Olli, alien archaeologist Trine, and an enhanced human, Solace, from a female led breakaway human faction, the Partheni, The many and varied antagonists include a megalomaniac, ruthless nobleman Ravin and an alien slave owner and despot The Unspeakable Aklu (a leading member of the international crime syndicate-cum-empire the Hegmony) The cast is much larger than this, but listed in full reads like the credits after a Marvel movie – fortunately there’s a glossary!

Events leading up to this final instalment in the trilogy include the discovery of a massive alien artefact called the Eye that, harnessed with other tech, has the ability to track Architect movements in Unspace and gives hope that an attack through Unspace can end the conflict. But control of the Eye is disputed – and the uneasy alliance between natural enemies, alien and human, is fractious and unstable.

Lords of Uncreation begins with a forcibly modified slave Int, Andecka, confronting an Architect about to destroy a planet, which gives us a feel for the scale of the conflict. We then shift to a spaceship surrounding the Eye, which has Ints (including Idris) looking out into Unspace and a different perspective on the conflict, leading to arguments over strategy. With the Eye now critical to survival in the constantly battered galaxy, its importance leads to shifting alliances, and the inevitable conflict that brings.

These novels are firmly into Alastair Reynolds, Peter F. Hamilton and Gareth Powell territory, with a broad spread of characters, plenty of tension and existential threats, but I found them difficult to follow at times, possibly because of the sheer size of the novels (this third instalment comes in at just under 600 pages), the number of characters, shifts in point of view and the emphasis on action rather than characterisation. Nevertheless, Tchaikovsky has once again demonstrated here that he’s at the peak of his award-winning powers, and this book delivers.  Recommended.

Mark Bilsborough


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