Books : reviews

Adrian Tchaikovsky.
Tor. 2013

The church of Armes of the Light has battled the forces of Darkness for as long as anyone can remember. The great prophecy has foretold that a band of misfits led by a high priestess will defeat the Dark Lord Darvezian, armed with their wits, the blessing of the Light, and an artifact stolen from the merciless Spider Queen.

Their journey will be long, hard, and fraught with danger. Allies will become enemies; enemies will become allies. And the Dark Lord will be waiting, always waiting…

Adrian Tchaikovsky.
The Doors of Eden.
Pan. 2020

They thought we were safe. They were wrong

Four years ago, two girls went to find mythical creatures on Bodmin Moor. Only one came back: Lee thought she’d lost Mal forever, yet now she’s miraculously returned. But what really happened on then moors?

MI5’s Julian Sabreur is investigating an attack on top physicist Kay Amal Khan. This leads Julian to clash with agents of an unknown power – who may or may not be human. But his only clue is grainy footage, showing a woman who supposedly died on Bodmin Moor. Dr Khan’s research had revealed cracks between our world and parallel Earths. Now these are widening, revealing extraordinary creatures. And as the doors crash open, anything could come through.

Adrian Tchaikovsky.
Elder Race.
Tor. 2021

rating : 3.5 : worth reading
review : 7 May 2022

I am going to make a momentous decision. Most likely it is a bad decision. Certainly it may be the last major decision I ever make.

Lynesse is the lowly fourth daughter of the queen, and always getting in the way.

But a demon is terrorizing the land, and now she’s an adult (albeit barely) with responsibilities (she tells herself). Although she still gets in the way, she understands that the only way to save her people is to invoke the pact between her family and the Elder sorcerer who has inhabited the local tower for as long as her people have lived here (though none in living memory has approached it).

But Elder Nyr isn’t a sorcerer, and he is forbidden to help, and his knowledge of science tells him the threat cannot possibly be a demon…

Lynesse knows what to do when demons threaten her mother’s lands: petition the wizard Nyr who helped her grandmother. Earth Anthropologist Nyr knows what to do: keep himself isolated from the peoples he is observing, while waiting for a rescue he suspects is never going to arrive.

This novella alternates between Lynesse’s medievaloid culture worldview and Nyr’s high-tech knowledge, and their often mutual incomprehension. There is some interesting world-building, meaning that the characters do not always act in a stereotypical manner. But the short novella form means the plot is somewhat linear: petition, persuade, travel, destroy. So, good, but could have had more complexity in a longer format.

Adrian Tchaikovsky.
Redemption's Blade.
Solaris. 2018

Ten years ago, the Kinslayer returned from the darkness. His brutal Yorughan armies issued from the pits of the earth, crushing all resistance, leaving burnt earth and corruption behind. Thrones toppled and cities fell.

And then he died.

Celestaine—one of the heroes that destroyed him—has tasked herself with correcting the worst excesses of the Kinslayer’s brief reign, bringing light back to a broken world. With two Yorughan companions, she faces fanatics, war criminals and the Kinslayer’s former minions, as the fragile alliances of the War break down into feuding and greed.

The Kinslayer may be gone, but he cast a long shadow: one from which she may never truly escape.

Adrian Tchaikovsky.
Children of Time.
Pan. 2015

rating : 2 : great stuff
review : 9 September 2019

Who will inherit this new earth?

The last remnants of the human race left a dying Earth, desperate to find new home. Following their ancestors’ star maps, they discovered the greatest treasure of a past age – a world terraformed and prepared for human life.

But all is not right in this new Eden. The planet is not waiting for them, pristine and unoccupied. New masters have turned it from a refuge into mankind’s worst nightmare. Now two civilizations are on a collision course and must fight to survive. As the fate of humanity hangs in the balance, who are the true heirs of this new Earth?

A mad scientist in orbit around a newly terraformed planet fails to realise she has accidentally uplifted a spider civilisation. And when the descendants of the last flight from a dying Earth arrive to colonise, they find themselves embroiled in a potentially tragic game of Prisoners Dilemma.

This is simply marvellous. (I’ll grant the uplift virus as the one piece of magic tech allowed.) The millennia-long timespan of the spiders and humans is handled in two very different, but effective ways. The uplifted spiders are some of the best “aliens” I’ve ever come across: their bio-technology, their social structures, their language and communications, their ways of scanning a computer screen, are all so different, yet so plausible. And the ending, although somewhat rushed, works nicely to subvert the humans’ assumptions.

Really looking forward to the sequel.

Adrian Tchaikovsky.
Children of Ruin.
Pan. 2019

It has waited through the Ages. Now it’s time.

Thousands of years ago, Earth’s terraforming program took to the stars. On the world they called Nod, scientists discovered alien life – but it was their mission to overwrite it with the memory of Earth. Then humanity’s great empire fell, and the program’s decisions were lost to time.

Aeons later, humanity and its new spider allies detected fragmentary radio signals between the stars. They dispatched an exploration vessel, hoping to find cousins from Old Earth. However, those ancient terraformers woke something on Nod that was better left undisturbed. And it’s been waiting for them.

Adrian Tchaikovsky.
Children of Memory.
Pan. 2022

They dreamed of home
They woke to a nightmare

On Imir, Captain Holt founded a hopeful new colony on an empty world. But generations later, his descendants are struggling to survive. As harvests worsen and equipment fails, strangers appear in a town where everyone knows their neighbour. Now the community fears it’s being observed – that they’re not alone. And they’d be right.

Explorers from the stars have come, in secret, to help. Confident of their superior technology, they begin to study their long-lost cousins from Earth. Yet the visitors aren’t the only watchers. When the starfarers discovers the scale of theirs mistake, it will be far too late to escape.

Adrian Tchaikovsky.
Dogs of War.
Head of Zeus. 2017

rating : 3 : worth reading
review : 15 August 2020

My name is Rex. I am a good dog.

Rex is also seven foot tall at the shoulder, bulletproof, bristling with heavy calibre weaponry and his voice resonates with subsonics especially designed to instil fear. With Dragon, Honey and Bees, he’s part of a Multiform Assault Pack operating in the lawless anarchy of Campeche, Mexico. As a genetically engineered Bioform, Rex is a deadly weapon in a dirty war. But all he wants to be is a Good Dog. And to do that he must do exactly what Master says and kill a lot of enemies.

But who, exactly, are the enemies? What happens when Master is tried as a war criminal? What rights does the Geneva Convention grant weapons? Do Rex and his fellow Bioforms even have a right to exist? And what happens when Rex slips his leash?

In the near future, genetic engineering has led to bioforms, animals with increased intelligence, size, and strength, bred for war. They have embedded obedience chips, so they can’t go rogue. But what happens when they are obedient to a war criminal? Who is to blame for their actions? Will a terrified public demand they be destroyed? How can they fight for their freedom without terrifying the public even further?

This is an excellent view inside the minds of uplifted beasts, told from the point of view of Rex, a dog-form, in charge of a group that includes a bear that is rather more intelligent that she should be, a giant lizard who prefers lying in the sun to shooting enemies, and the hive-mind Bees. There are lots of plot twists just when you think you know how things will play out, and a view of humanity whose only salvation may lie in the hands, or paws, of its own creations.

Adrian Tchaikovsky.
Bear Head.
Head of Zeus. 2021

rating : 3 : worth reading
review : 20 March 2023

Welcome to Hell City, Mars.

Jimmy Martin is used to smuggling illegal data in his headspace. But this is the first time it has started talking to him. And it’s claiming to be a bear. A Bioform bear named Honey.

Jimmy doesn’t have a problem with Bioforms. He works with them everyday in Hell City, building the future, staking mankind’s claim to a new world.

The problem is that humanity isn’t the only entity with designs on the Red Planet. Out in the airless desert there is another presence. A novel intelligence, elusive, unknowable and potentially lethal.

And Honey is here to make contact with it, whether Jimmy likes it or not.

Mild spoilers for Dogs of War

Mars is being terraformed by a group of modified humans. Jimmy used to enjoy his role, but now lives from one drug high to the next. To pay for his fixes, he illegally couriers data in his surprisingly capacious in-brain data store. But now he’s uploaded the wrong data, and a bioform bear is in his head, messing up his day.

This is set a while after Dogs of War, where the bioform animals are beginning to lose the rights they so painfully won: some have even deliberately given them up. As have some humans, too. There’s a gruesome shell of a politician back on Earth (not reminiscent of any existing politician, certainly not, no siree) leading the regression, and somehow tied to the Mars initiative.

This is another great rollicking hard-SF adventure with very serious subplots: we have to keep fighting for our rights even after we have won, and it’s immoral to outsource our morality. Great stuff. I wish we could see more of Honey the bear.

Adrian Tchaikovsky.
Shards of Earth.
Tor. 2021

In the depths of space a monster awakes

Eighty years ago, Earth was destroyed by an alien ‘Architect’. Some escaped, but millions more died. So to protect its colonies, humanity shaped the minds of Idris and others into weapons and sent them into battle. But the Architects disappeared, and heroes like Idris were forgotten. However, he’s glad of it. This particular living weapon would rather retire to a shabby salvage vessel than be anyone's ammunition. Then this small ship makes a huge discovery.

Hunted by gangsters, governments and spies, Idris and his crew race across the galaxy on a desperate hunt for a way out. For they found something many would kill to obtain – proof that the Architects have returned.

Adrian Tchaikovsky.
Eyes of the Void.
Tor. 2022

What waits in the shadows as we fight our greatest foe?

An Architect almost destroyed humanity’s foremost colony, until Idris Telemmier turned it aside. But that was just the start of the war – and now no planet is safe. Ancient artefacts once repelled these vast aliens, but they are now terrifyingly ineffective. However, the ruins of a lost civilization offer hope. Its forgotten builders created the artefacts, so their city could hold the key to victory.

Idris and the crew of the Vulture God are sent there, seeking answers, to a planet under a death sentence. So Idris must return to the nightmare of unspace, where his mind was broken and remade. All the while, humanity’s factions eye one another with distrust. Yet what he discovers will change everything.