An excellent start to a new space opera series
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.
Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Children of Time is one of my favourite science fiction novel of the past decade or so (probably true for many others — it justifiably won the Arthur C. Clarke Award). Shards of Earth is the first novel in a new science fiction series from the author, and it’s quite the opening salvo: expansive, action-packed, and populated by varied and engaging characters. I very much enjoyed this.
The novel follows the trials and tribulations of a rag-tag crew of a freelance salvage vessel. They are somewhat misfit in make-up, but have formed strong found-familial bonds. As is so often the case in such novels, they manage to run afoul of pretty much every centre of power in the populated galaxy. And, as it happens, also something far larger, and far scarier…
As the crew investigate what they find in space — a spaceship wreck that appears to have been destroyed/reformed by an Architect, they are forced to navigate the shifting tides of power and influence among the human diaspora. The implications of what they find have far-reaching implications, in terms of politics (which is apparently just as frustrating in this far-future as it can be today) and also the potential return of the Architects. They’re an enjoyable bunch to spend time with, as are the allies they acquire over the course of the story. I quickly became invested in their fates, and look forward to seeing how their arcs continue over the series (assuming they survive, of course…).
Idris is a great character, and his strange and rarefied position makes for some interesting character traits and also implications for the story. In particular, his thoughts and memories of the the Architects and the war are particularly interesting. One thing that I found especially chilling was when he remembers first brushing up against the Architect’s mind — the realization that this huge, alien destroyer may not even have been aware of the humans before the defeat, so small were they that they barely registered (if at all) when they were reforming planets.
It felt the intrusion, but didn’t understand what he was. He was turbulence, interference, static. A bad dream. But he was nothing it recognized in any meaningful way.
The novel is filled with great turns of phrase (being in the “asylum of aggrandizement” was a personal favourite), and while I did enjoy spending time with some characters more than others, each of them brings something special to the novel — not to mention, their special skills to the crew and adventure. The action is frequent and varied, but doesn’t get in the way of, nor overwhelm the story itself. Tchaikovsky has a gift for situating the reader without indulging in info-dumping or excessive exposition. It’s an eclectic future, with different races and also different branches of humanity, changed and adapted to their new ways of lives and environments in subtle (some less-so) ways. There are familiar science fiction tropes, but almost all of them are tweaked just enough to feel fresh and interesting (I found the idea of the void particularly good, and somewhat uncomfortable), as was Idris’s nature and others like him.
Even though this is the first book in a series, Tchaikovsky has done a very good job of making sure there’s a clear story and sub-plot that is resolved within the single volume. Yes, it’s a story that very much sets up the next book, but it also forms a quite satisfying ending in itself. There may have been the odd moment when I’d wished the story would move just that little bit faster (not something I experienced with Children of Time), but it nevertheless built to a quite satisfying part one finish and read in general.
Adrian Tchaikovsky doesn’t really need much of an introduction anymore: He’s one of my favourite authors, and I’ll read pretty much anything with his name stamped on the cover. If you’re looking for a new science fiction series to start, I’d very much recommend giving this one a try. I can’t wait to read book two.
Also on CR: Interview with Adrian Tchaikovsky (2012); Guest Posts on “Nine Books, Six Years, One Stenwold Maker”, “The Art of Gunsmithing — Writing Guns of the Dawn“, “Looking for God in Melnibone Places: Fantasy and Religion”, and “Eye of the Spider”; Excerpt from Guns of the Dawn; Reviews of Empire of Black & Gold, Guns of the Dawn, Children of Ruin, Spiderlight, Ironclads, Made Things, and One Day All This Will Be Yours