Elder Race


Adrian Tchaikovsky


Science Fiction / Fantasy


Date Reviewed:

February 20, 2022

drian Tchaikovsky is one of the best science fiction writers working today. He consistently produces excellent stories (even Walking to Aldebaran was full of unique ideas, though that tale was marred by a strange and unnecessary linkage to the story of Beowulf) and he is quite prolific. Long may Tchaikovsky compose new works! Elder Race is a novella (198 pages) set on a distant planet called Sophos 4. Humanity once had a golden age of expansion and colonization, including a team of colonists who long ago landed on the planet and partially terraformed it and partially adapted to the native ecology - and then promptly suffered a technology crash when the golden age of human space exploration ended. Now the inhabitants of Sophos 4 exist with medieval level technology; partitioned into tiny kingdoms ruled by monarchs, and full of superstitious beliefs of demons and magic.

Earth eventually flowered again, and a new wave of science and exploration flourished. Teams were sent out to observe the previously established colonies. A team of four anthropologists was assigned a mission to study Sophos 4, including a man named Nyr Illim Tevitch, anthropologist second-class of the Earth Explorers Corps. The anthropologists, of course, must follow the "prime directive" - they can only observe the more primitive Sophos 4 cultures, they are forbidden to interfere. But then something mysterious happens with the second flowering of Earth's multi-stellar expansion. The communications all fall silent. Three of the four members opt to fly back to the home planet, leaving Nyr sleeping in a hibernation chamber in his impregnable tower on a remote mountain peak.

Lynesse is the Fourth Princess of the Royal Line of Lannesite, a minor kingdom at the base of the mountains where Nyr's tower stands. Lynesse has always been headstrong and adventurous, unlike her three older sisters who have matured into proper courtiers. When the novel opens, Lynesse is clambering up the mountains, in the company of her friend Esha, who is one of the water folk. There are dire stories about a demon that is ravaging the nearby kingdoms, and nothing can stop it. As a child, Lynesse heard the tales of the mighty magician Nyrgoth who aided her great-grandmother, Astresse Regent, when demons threatened the kingdom so many storm-cycles ago. It seems right to Lynesse that the mighty Nyrgoth be called upon again to aid in the fight against this latest demon threat, though her mother, the Queen, would strongly disapprove of Lynesse's foray if she knew about it.

Elder Race is told in alternating chapters between Lynesse's view point and that of Nyr. I enjoyed the way Tchaikovsky depicted their clash of cultures - they literally cannot seem to communicate effectively despite the translation mechanism. When Nyr speaks of science and technology and machines, Lynesse and Esha hear only magic and sorcery and demons. Nyr's capabilities are so far beyond anything else in their experience that they can only see magic in the wonders and powers at Nyr's command.

The reader soon learns that Nyr violated the prime directive long ago, when he came to aid of the Lannesite kingdom. A minor warlord had somehow learned how to command a piece of machinery left over from the original colonists, and had managed to turn it into an unstoppable weapon. Nyr had come down from his tower to help a young queen named Astresse. Nyr issued new instructions to the warlord's machine and shut it down, ending the threat. The people, of course, saw him as a wizard casting a magical spell. Now Astresse great-granddaughter has come to his tower, awakened him from hibernation, pleading for Nyr to come to their defense once again.

Nyr is stunned by how long he hs been sleeping. He queries the satellite overhead, but despite the centuries, there is still no communication from Earth. Nyr feels truly alone. And since Lynesse so closely resembles his friend Astresse from so long ago, Nyr decides to help. He will investigate this "demon" (which he is confident is just another old colony machine) and return peace to the land.

I thought that this was a fun read. Both Nyr and Lynesse are well portrayed. They face challenges and threats, they struggle to communicate with each other. Nyr has a Dissociative Cognition System (DCS) which allows him to tamp down his emotions so that he can evaluate a situation with clinical detachment, rather than emotionally reacting to danger or stress. But the DCS only temporarily can quell these reflexes, eventually, Nyr must endure the tides of feelings that have been stored away. To Lynesse and Esha, it seems as if the powerful wizard has strange behavior - but isn't that the nature of wizards?

Tchaikovsky has recently published other books that I hope to read: Shards of Earth, Guns of the Dawn and The Doors of Eden (I said he was prolific!). I hope I can read them soon!