The Shards of Earth by Adrian Tchaikovsky
Tor, hb, £15.19
Reviewed by Sarah Deeming
Humanity has left Earth, reaching for the stars, making new homes and allies among the beings they meet. But when they discover the Architects, they find a race so vast they are beyond human comprehension, and humans are too insignificant to notice. The Architects move through the universe, changing the shape of the objects they come into contact with, ships, moons, planets, with little thought for the indigenous lifeforms they are destroying in the process. As a desperate last attempt at survival, humanity sends Intermediates, men and women with psychic abilities, on battleships with genetically bred female warriors as a final stand. Against all odds, they succeed.
Idris Telemmier is one of the few Ints who survived that war. His skills are so highly sought after that some will resort to kidnap to possess him. So, he eeks out a living on the edges of civilisation, piloting a deep space salvage ship where he can hide from civilisation. He just wants to be left alone, and it’s the one thing he won’t get because somewhere out in the black of space, the Architects are coming back.
The Shards of Earth is the first in a new trilogy by Adrian Tchaikovsky, and if the other two continue in the same vein as this, then it will be an epic masterpiece. We start in the final battle between an alliance of beings and the Architects because the Architects are indiscriminate about what they reshape to their liking. I was immediately struck by how insignificant humanity is. For all its achievements, the exploration, pacts with other races, advances in science and technology against the Architects, it’s all meaningless. We are so tiny compared to the Architects; they don’t even see us. It’s a humbling start and packs a punch.
The story is told in four parts; Solace, who is an engineered warrior to defend humanities colonies, Idris a free Int who is always on the verge of a breakdown and incapable of sleep; Kris, Idris’s lawyer, who saves him from being used for his abilities, and Havaer who works for the Intervention Board as something between a policeman and a spy. The four threads weave together to give us a story about the failures of treating people like objects.
Solace is kept in cold storage until there is a war she is needed for. She doesn’t question this because her purpose is to protect the colonies. On the other hand, Idris rebels against being used in the same way. He is a person with free will, so he will choose when and where he uses his intermediary skills, much to the dismay of the Board of Human Interests and criminals alike. Although he is a person, Idris is considered a valuable asset, worth going to war over. Yet, when he warns people of the things he senses in space, that the Architects are coming back, he is not believed. He shows that for all humanity’s advancement into the stars, they are still petty.
I also enjoyed Havaer as a character. He follows Idris and Solace on their misadventures through space, always a few steps behind. When he eventually catches up to them, he demonstrates he is unlike everyone else. When Havaer has Idris on his ship and can use the other man, he lets Idris go, treating him like a person capable of making his own decisions. In a story about using people as objects, Havaer is an example of what respect looks like. He also provides a deeper context to events. While Idris is terrified the Architects are coming back, Havaer has a less emotive view on things which hints at the truth behind the return of the Architects.
I am always in awe of the scope of Tchaikovsky’s imagination. His cast is so varied and yet so realistic, they are immediately accessible. The Hivers were my favourite, colonies of insects living in artificial bodies they adapt for their purpose, a current trend of alternate lifeforms in sci-fi which Tchaikovsky elevates with their physicality and interpretation of the the humans they are trying to work with. They mimic humanity to make humans feel more at ease despite being significantly greater in intellect. Again, another example of how we are not as great as we think we are, but there is something about humanity the Hivers believe is worthwhile.
As the first book in a trilogy, it gives the reader enough answers to satisfy for that book and plenty of questions, so we want more. The Shards of Earth is a high-speed whodunnit in space with a varied cast and excellent world-building. My only complaint is how long I will have to wait for the next book.