Fiction Reviews

Shards of Earth

(2021) Adrian Tchaikovsky, Tor, £18.99, hrdbk, 549pp, ISBN 978-1-529-05188-9


The war is over. Its heroes forgotten. Until one chance discovery… Idris has neither aged nor slept since they remade him in the war. And one of humanity’s heroes now scrapes by on a freelance salvage vessel, to avoid the attention of greater powers. After Earth was destroyed, mankind created a fighting elite to save their species, enhanced humans such as Idris. In the silence of space they could communicate, mind-to-mind, with the enemy. Then their alien aggressors, the Architects, simply disappeared – and Idris and his kind became obsolete. Now, fifty years later, Idris and his crew have something strange, abandoned in space. It’s clearly the work of the Architects – but are they returning? And if so, why? Hunted by gangsters, cults and governments, Idris and his crew race across the galaxy hunting for answers. For they now possess something of incalculable value, that many would kill to obtain.

Tchaikovsky’s latest novel, the first is a series called 'The Final Architecture', is a meaty tome and starts with a prologue and is divided into five parts, which are made up of thirty chapters, but these are divided into sections following the leading characters. After chapter thirty there is a reference section on “The Universe of the Architects” which comprises of a glossary, a section on characters (namely the crew of the Vulture God), other key characters (including gangsters, and prophets, administrators, scientists, noblemen and crooked lawyers!), worlds, species, ships and a very handy timeline. It is probably best to say that this is worth reading before you start on the prologue.

What Tchaikovsky offers the reader is an epic space opera, with the necessary components: battles, a variety of alien species, and enhanced humans, and a greater mystery and a greater threat, but also giving it his own unique spin. Two unique twists are the Architects, which are huge, almost-planet size creatures who can alter matter, choosing to turn spaceships and planets into art, or sorts, unfortunately these aren’t capable of sustaining life anymore once they have been converted into crystalline structures. Sadly, one of the planets to experience this conversion was Earth, turning the fleeing remains of humanity into space-bound refugees.

The other twist is the space travel which occurs by entering Unspace, which can only be accessed by pilots who have had their minds altered. Not many can survive this process and those that do, are extremely valuable and in danger of being kidnapped.

If that wasn’t bad enough, pilots believe that they are not alone in Unspace and can feel a threatening presence that can drive them insane, therefore passengers are put to sleep, but pilots have to stay awake. One such pilot is Idris Telemmier who works with a crew of the Vulture God, salvaging spaceships, but by being in Unspace he is able to communicate with the Architects and he knows war is coming, but he also makes a startling discovery which is going to have ramifications for him and his friends.

Being a space opera we have a variety of alien races, factions and federation-like bodies. Humanity is almost held together by a fraying body called “Hugh”, the Council of Human Interests, and there are other factions known as Partheni, the Navitivsts and the Betrayed, but there are other races and civilisations such as the Hegemony, run by the Essiel who have their eyes on controlling humanity. Added into the mix are roving AIs, and crab-like aliens, and killing machines, so it makes for a varied and dangerous universe. Of course, the crew of the Vulture God are all very different, made up of humans and aliens, all with their agendas, prejudices and quirks.

A homeless scattered humanity isn’t new in science fiction or space opera (cf. Alastair Reynold's Inhibitor Phase) but Tchaikovsky puts his own stamp on it to give us a book full of great characters, great world-building, action, battles, witty banter, and a hint of Lovecraftian horror. I look forward to stowing-away on the Vulture God and maybe pitching in when I can for future adventures.


Ian Hunter

See also Mark's take on The Shards of Earth.


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