Shards of Earth


Adrian Tchaikovksy


Science Fiction / Fantasy


Date Reviewed:

May 18, 2022

ot that there was much dispute on the topic, but Shards of Earth cements the status of the award-winning Tchaikovsky as one of the finest science fiction novelists writing today. Shards of Earth is the first book in what will apparently be a space-opera trilogy called The Final Architecture. In the far future, when Earth civilization has expanded to multiple star systems and contacted many sentient alien species, a new alien ship appears - it is the size of a moon; monstrous and incredibly powerful, this alien can literally rip an entire planet apart and sculpt the glowing fragments into curlicues and spirals. Earth itself is destroyed when one of the moon-sized aliens appears in the Sol system, shredding our home planet and killing billions. Because of the bizarrely twisted ruins of the planets left in their wake, the attacking aliens are dubbed "The Architects". It seems that no planet is safe, the worlds of many different species are subject to abrupt, violent disintegration.

Although the different species co-operate, they are helpless to stop the powerful Architects. One day, a young human woman, later nicknamed "St. Xavienne", comes under attack and finds she can communicate mentally with the Architect entity. The attack abruptly ends, and the Architect departs. Not understanding what happened, but determined to replicate Xavienne's ability, humanity embarks on a ruthless quest to create more people just like her. Most of the subjects of these failed experiments perish, but one man who survives is Idris Telemmier. Idris is at Berlenhof, the new seat of the humanity's civilization after the destruction of Earth, when an Architect appears above the planet. The humans and their alien allies throw every weapon they have at the incoming behemoth, but their most potent weapons are no deterrent. Then Idris and his fellow navigators engage mentally with the Architect, and it again halts its attack. Architects are never seen again, the war is over as mysteriously as it began.

The preceding paragraphs are backstory that sets the stage for the plot of Shards of Earth. It is now 50 years since the Architects have vanished, and Idris is no longer needed as a coveted defensive force against the Architects. Idris now lives as a navigator aboard the dilapidated scavenger ship Vulture God. In a classic SF trope, the Vulture God is crewed by a disparate group of misfits and losers, under the baleful eye of Captain Rollo Rostand. A faction of humanity, called the Parthenon, has decided it needs to understand how people like Idris are able to navigate spaceships through unspace. Most humans must be rendered unconscious to traverse unspace, but Idris can stay awake and navigate a ship through the void, leaving the established Throughways and flying where they please. Since the Parenthi warrior Solace was with Idris during the battle of Berlenhof, the Paranthi rulers instruct Solace to find Idris and convince him to peacefully come to the Paranthi world, where he can be studied and his abilities hopefully reproduced.

The warrior Solace sets out to find Idris. She temporarily joins the suspicious crew of the Vulture God. What follows is one adventure after the other. Tchaikovsky throws obstacle after problem after crisis at the crew of The Vulture God. There are multiple factions of humanity involved. There are alien species, cults and many different planets to visit (all of them dangerous!) It is an enormous canvas, and Tchaikovsky paints with imaginative ideas, creating odd alien creatures - such as hive minds (Tchaikovsky seems to have quite a fondness for intelligent insects) or the crab-like Hannilambra - and varied planetary ecosystems. There are cultures and power-struggles to navigate. Yet Tchaikovsky keeps all of this detail from overwhelming the plot. He focuses on the small crew of the Vulture God, as we watch Captain Rostand lead them against one hurdle after another. The result is a lot of fun universe-building. Perhaps along the line of A Fire Upon the Deep or one of the Culture novels by Iain M. Banks.

Book 2 has just been published, Eyes of the Void; I hope I can grab a copy soon!