(2021) Adrian Tchaikovsky, Tor, £18.99, hrdbk, 549pp, ISBN 978-1-529-05188-9
The latest from the prolific Adrian Tchaikovsky, Shards of Earth is high-tech, high concept space opera filling out almost 550 fast paced pages with imaginative plotlines, quirky characters and solid science fiction. Set in space, in the future, in a galaxy populated by humans and decidedly non-humanoid aliens, it’s the first of a trilogy, so happily there’s more to come.
The main character is an Intermediary (or ‘Int’) called Idris, who’s one of a small cadre of specially crafted humans who can safely navigate ‘unspace’ without going mad. He navigates for itinerant traders on the decrepit cargo ship the Vulture God and generally tries to stay out of trouble.
Years before, he was at the centre of a war with aliens called the Architects, whose modus operandi was to send big ships to populated planets and remodel them into massive works of art (albeit killing everyone in the process). Earth is destroyed, and human populated worlds across the galaxy are at risk. Idris managed to infiltrate the mind of an Architect as the giant ship prepared to destroy the new human capital planet, Berlenhof, following which the Architects withdrew. Humanity, thinking they were gone for good, rebuilt. But then a ship emerges from unspace, destroyed and reshaped apparently by the Architects hands and panic resumes.
During the first conflict with the Architects, a band of gene modified female fighters, the Parthenon, sacrifice much to keep humanity safe, but they’re shunned in the new order – one of their best, Solace, revisits old acquaintances with Idris and becomes part of the Vulture God team and those two characters are pivotal in driving the plot. Rounding out the crew are an add mix of aliens and misfits. Much of this is well-worn territory but it’s executed well and it’s nice to see a character with disabilities (Olli) given such a prominent and positive role.
And there’s a mad alien cult led by an alien gangster determined to wreck everything called, delightfully, the Unspeakable Aklu, the Razor and the Hook. Great stuff.
See also Ian's take on The Shards of Earth as well as Mark Yon's review.
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