By: Adrian Tchaikovsky
Publisher: Orbit Books
Genre: Science Fiction
“In the seventy-eighth year of the war, an Architect came to Berlenhof…Solace remembered. She had been there. Basilisk Division, Heaven’s Sword Sorority. Her first Battle.” Adrian Tchaikovsky, Shards of Earth
Shards of Earth is an impressive science fiction novel with an intense plot and incredibly well-developed characters. It explores what it means to be human, the idea of perfection, and the rights of those who are genetically engineered, all interwoven into a story of the possible return of terrifying aliens. This is a book that absolutely fascinated me both in terms of the science and the ethics that I feel is a large part of the story. The plot is incredible, fast paced and packed with action. Mr. Tchaikovsky also created a story within a story that explores deeper questions in science fiction. While we certainly are nowhere near the science of the book, it does pose ethical questions about how we will eventually deal with advancements in science.
The premise of the book is how the alien race, the Architects, came to Earth and many other planets, and re-formed them. In doing so, billions of lives were lost. Humans were colonizing other planets, and while some were able to escape Earth when the Architects came, that vast majority were lost. As they approach the main human colony of Berlenhof, the battle against them ensues. A losing battle, as the Architects are very powerful and no one can communicate with them. No one except the Intermediaries, humans whose minds were genetically altered to find a connection with the Architects. Idris Telemmier, an Intermediary, reaches the consciousness of the Architects and through his connection, sends them away. But are they gone for good? 50 years after the war, Idris is now part of a salvage ship crew of humans and aliens, trying to remain anonymous rather than be pressed into service if the Architects return.
The story was excellent, as was the pacing and prose. It takes place almost entirely in space, with short jaunts onto various planets. As a salvage ship, they find a valuable artifact which needs to be deciphered. What ensues is a hunt for them through space, not only for the artifact, but for Idris and his gifts. The action is interspersed perfectly with character development. The action scenes are exciting and very well done. Even as science fiction, they feel real and would take place much as any battle would, it’s just that this these are in space. Throughout the narrative, there is loss, pain, mistrust, friendship and what it means to be a family. Mr. Tchaikovsky’s strong point was the detailed description of the various alien races, of which there are many, each has their own unique, well-developed personality. In addition, he also excels in the area of genetic modification, a theme that runs continuously through the book. Shards of Earth is excellent science fiction and I highly recommend it.
Summary (from Goodreads)
Rebellion. Revenge. Revelation.
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 discovered 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.
Genetic engineering is common in this novel. Rather than delve into each character or alien race, I think it’s important to look at what this engineering means to the characters.
Solace is one of the main protagonists in the book and knows Idris from the war 50 years ago. She is a genetically engineered warrior woman, who belongs to the Parthenon. Not a separate race, but they do isolate from the rest of humanity after the war. They are engineered through a process called parthenogenesis. Simply put, it is the process of producing offspring from an unfertilized egg. In the book, all progeny are female. This is actually how queen bees produce male drone workers, so it is not a made-up science fiction concept. It is a brilliant concept to apply to human genetics. The Partheni are clones, perfect female warriors made to fight. But what is perfection? What is the ideal of perfection?
Here is an example of the exceptional way Mr. Tchaikovsky addresses it in the book. On the salvage ship, Solace becomes part of the crew. Ollie, another crew member, resents her being there. Ollie relies on walkers and special suits she designs to move around. She is a brilliant navigator and mechanic, but she is not physically “perfect” like the Partheni. As she addresses her resentment towards Solace, she says:
“Look at me, Myrmidon Executor Solace.” Olli twisted in the capsule of her walking frame, stump arms and stump leg shifting. “Your precious eugenics wouldn’t have ever made me, would it? You see a thing like me growing in your vats, you’d flush the contents out into space. Not fit for your perfect society, am I”
That’s powerful, as Solace is at a loss for words and how to respond. She must face the truth and re-evaluate the meaning of the Parthenon.
What do those who are genetically altered owe us? Idris is human and volunteered to become and Intermediary. He serves on “leash” for the governing powers and is treated as property. Though he does gain freedom, he is still pursued as property by through the book. It begs the question do we treat genetically altered people as property? What is the justification? There are some genetic alterations we can already do, albeit nominal. Genetic engineering is a powerful tool that far outpaces the ethical concerns we have. Mr. Tchaikovsky tackles it head on with Idris as he refuses to be pressed into service, vehemently protecting his freedom.
Shards of Earth is an exceptional science fiction novel by Adrian Tchaikovsky. The story of the Architects and the race to ward them off is an exciting page turning adventure through space. The characters, both human and alien, are brilliant and complex. This novel was like peeling an onion. I felt there were so many layers to it. The space opera itself, the character interaction, and the issues of genetic engineering. It explores themes of perfection and autonomy for those who have been genetically altered. The Architects were truly terrifying and brutal. The story takes many twists and turns I never could have predicted. Mr. Tchaikovsky’s pacing and prose is excellent, and the battle scenes that take place in space and the crews’ readiness on the ships are heart pounding action. Shards of Earth is a book that I highly recommend.
You can find out more on Adrian Tchaikovsky’s website: https://shadowsoftheapt.com/
My thanks to NetGalley for providing me with a copy an eBook in exchange for an honest review.
Buy Shards of Earth on AmazonFollow Me on Social Media