Cover Image: Shards of Earth

Shards of Earth

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Member Reviews

Having read the authors other series, I'm well versed in the writing style (which I love) and the way the story unfolds, a truly modern epic space opera. It has all the elements I love and and it's a complex, intricate tale. Definitely recommended.
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This 1st in Adrian Tchaikovsky's Final Architecture series is a complicated space opera set in an intricate universe with a variety of alien species. 

Unstoppable aliens, Architects, have destroyed Earth and a host of other planets (both Colony and alien ones), transforming them into intricately crafted floriform sculptures.

Genetic modifications led to creation of Intermediaries. Volunteers underwent horrific conditioning and those who survived gained the ability to communicate telepathically. One of them, Idris Telemmier, was able to contact the Archirtects and they left.

Now they're back and various factions want to use Idris..
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3 stars, Metaphorosis Reviews 

The Architects are huge, inscrutable, space-borne creatures who transform living planets into cruel, beautiful art. They were turned back once, by crudely engineered human Intermediaries. But now, there's evidence that they may be back, throwing the galaxy into confusion and panic. 

I’ve only read one Adrian Tchaikovsky book until now – Walking to Aldebaran – and really liked it, so I was eager to get into this book. I was sorely disappointed.

Shards of Earth has plenty of ideas – familiar, but presented with sufficient novelty to be interesting. It’s that presentation, though, that’s the problem. While apparently the first book in a new trilogy, it reads – for at least half its length – like the continuation of an ongoing series. Tchaikovsky has chosen an in media res approach that substantially muddies the waters, constantly offering up flashbacks just after they would have been useful. 

I was genuinely convinced for much of the time that this was a book only for the cognoscenti of his prior work. It wasn’t until well near the end that I was certain that was wrong, and the problem was simply in the structure.
The result was that I didn’t much enjoy the book, intriguing as some of the elements were. I never felt I’d found my footing, and I don’t mean that in a good way. Quirky characters notwithstanding, I seldom felt engaged, and often felt mildly confused.

The book hits on many of my favorite tropes, yet I can’t recommend it. If this had been my introduction to Tchaikovsky, I’d never have gone any further. As it is, I already have one more book on tap, and I strongly hope that Walking to Aldebaran was the norm and this the anomaly.

I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review.
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Forty years after the Architects destroyed Earth and a bunch of other inhabited planets, humans have started squabbling again. A group of cloned/parthogenesis-reproducing warriors are either interested in getting rid of anyone else or determined to be humanity’s protectors, depending on who you listen to; a bunch of planets have become clients of alien overlords whose tech is capable of keeping Architects away, and they’re proselytizing, and the remainder of humanity is semi-united under the name Hugh, continuing the process that produced the one successful anti-Architect tool by enslaving and killing hundreds of criminals for every one who emerges able to navigate unspace. That’s when things go south. Look, there’s a lot going on, and species I haven’t mentioned, and it’s a wild ride; the characters have different voices and senses of humor, and I think it’s my favorite of his I’ve read.
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Published by Orbit on August 3, 2021

Adrian Tchaikovsky built a detailed universe for Shards of Earth, the first book of the Final Architecture series. That universe is fundamental to the novel, but it never gets in the way of a multifaceted space opera that features creative aliens and appealing human characters.

A human diaspora led to the settlement of hundreds of worlds in the novel’s far future. As humans tend to do, they have divided themselves into factions. Most worlds colonized by humans belong to the Council of Human Interests, or Hugh. Some have followed the Essiel, an ancient alien race that has organized the Hegemony and promises protection from threats if its members will accept the Essiel as divine beings. While the Essiel generally leave species and individuals alone if they choose not to follow the Essiel, the humans who join the Essiel, being human, tend to become cultists.

The primary threat to humanity comes from inscrutable aliens called the Architects. The Architects destroy inhabited worlds. They’ve destroyed alien civilizations in the past and, a few decades before the novel begins, they turned their attention to human worlds, starting with Earth. Their ships appear out of nowhere and, using a technology that humans don’t understand, reshape planets by pulling at their cores and turning the planets inside out. They take a similar approach to the ships that attack them. The new contours of the reshaped planets and ships might be appreciated for their aesthetic value, although not by their dead inhabitants. Perhaps the destruction is a form of artistic creation, a theory that explains why humans refer to the aliens as Architects.

A group of women called the Parthenon represent a human faction outside of the Hugh. They reproduce parthenogenetically and are genetically engineered to be, as conceived by their founder, ideal representatives of humanity. The Partheni are fierce warriors but they are viewed with suspicion by humans who believe rumors that the Partheni kill male babies and want to form a superior race that will subjugate lesser humans. Whether their founder actually intended the Partheni to rule others was, at least for a time, a subject of some debate among the Partheni, but less authoritarian Partheni minds ultimately prevailed.

While the Parthenon fought alongside the Hugh against the Architects, a different breed of human provided the key to the war. A 15-year-old girl named Xavienne was able to reach into the mind of an Architect and turn its ship back. Humans tried to engineer that same ability into volunteers known as Intermediaries, killing most of them in the process. The most successful Int was Idris Telemmier. He teamed with a Partheni named Solace in the war’s most important battle.

The other primary defense against Architects are relics left on certain worlds by an ancient race known as the Originators. The Architects won’t go near those worlds. Unfortunately, the relics lose their power to deter Architects when they are transported elsewhere.

All of this is background to a story that takes place several decades after the Architects disappeared. By virtue of their engineering, Ints are able to pilot vessels in unspace. That makes them valuable even in the absence of the enemy Architects. While most humans lose their sanity (or at least their lunch) unless they sleep through journeys into unspace, Ints can withstand the discomfort. Telemmier nevertheless experiences barely suppressed horror based on his sense of a terrifying presence in unspace.

Telemmier is now piloting a salvage vessel called the Vulture God. Decades after they were last together, Solace is asked to recruit Telemmier to work for the Partheni. After proving her worth to the ship during a skirmish on an unwelcoming planet, she joins the crew so she’ll have the opportunity to make her pitch to Telemmier.

Apart from Telemmier and Solace, the novel’s primary characters are other crew members of the Vulture God. A shrewd lawyer named Kris, a factor (deal maker/accountant) named Kit, a drone specialist named Olli, and a search specialist named Medvig are the most memorable characters. Kit is Hammilambra, an alien species whose members resemble crabs. Medvig is a Hiver, a distributed intelligence that resides in cyborg insects that inhabit mechanical bodies. Olli was “born a stranger to her human body” and relies on mechanical devices for transportation (her favorite resembles an oversize scorpion). A Hiver archeologist named Trine becomes a de facto crew member when Solace needs his expertise to analyze some relics. The wormlike Castigar and symbionts called the Tothiat are among the other species that populate the universe.

The plot takes off when the Vulture God contracts to recover a missing ship. The crew discovers that the ship has been reshaped, suggesting that the Architects have returned. The crew encounters one obstacle after another when they try to bring the ship home. Various parties, including a group of Essiel gangsters and the human version of the CIA/KGB, want to seize the ship or its contents, kidnap Telemmier, or start a fight. As the reader might expect, the Architects do return, forcing a reluctant Telemmier to once again play hero. By the end, Telemmier learns something about the Architects and their mission that will undoubtedly set up the next book in the series.

In the grand tradition of science fiction, Telemmier also learns something about himself as he finds the courage and pluck to return to heroic conflict after embracing obscurity during decades of peace. He also finds that he missed Solace, having bonded with her in battle, although he doesn’t particularly trust her. Solace’s own conflict, between her loyalty to the sisterhood of Parthenon and her friends on the Vulture God, tests her in a way that will be familiar to science fiction fans.

Shards of Earth is built on a carefully conceived foundation that suggests an epic story, yet Tchaikovsky never lets the story get away from him. He balances the big picture with interpersonal conflicts, making it possible for the reader to relate to the characters, even if they aren’t the sort of cyborg insects who live next door. I wouldn’t say that the far future is so different from the present that it represents a brilliance of imagination, but the story is satisfying, the characters have distinct personalities, and the true nature of the Architects presents an intriguing question. I look forward to learning any answers Tchaikovsky decides to provide in the next novel.

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With The Expanse sadly ending this year, I have been on the lookout for new space operas to fill the void, and I have found a new contender. Site favorite Adrian Tchaikovsky has put out the first novel in a sweeping science-fiction epic titled Shards of Earth, and it is a wild ride. Tchaikovsky has been making serious headway into our hearts with his more solitary science fiction like Children of Time and The Doors of Eden, so it was exciting to see what he would do with a larger series. The result is an outstanding opening book to what promises to be a grand space adventure filled with wacky characters and high-stakes political intrigue.

Shards of Earth’s plot is big and hard to summarize in a single paragraph (which suits a grand space opera), but let me see if I can lay down a foundation for you. The story takes place in a distant future in which we have taken the galactic stage and met a number of other alien species. Things are going well until planet-sized alien Architects start showing up and turning entire planets into modern sculptures with cosmic power – killing everyone on them. Most of the sentient species band together to try to stop these colossal arbiters of death, but nothing seems to be able to scratch them. Little progress is made fighting until a breakthrough of a secret psychic conditioning experiment leads to the creation of “Ints.” These ESP-ers could communicate, mind-to-mind, with the enemy. Then their alien aggressors, the Architects, simply disappeared. 

In addition to being able to communicate with Architects, a skill no longer in demand, the Ints have an unparalleled understanding of movement through space, making them the greatest pilots alive – and there are very few of them left from the war. Our story follows a number of POVs after the war with the Architects but centers on a retired Int named Idris that many factions are fighting over. They all want to recruit him to be their pet pilot while he tries to carve out an independent life on a scavenger ship called the Vulture God. When the crew makes a strange discovery that might herald the return of the dreaded Architects, things begin to heat up.

The three pillars of success that hoist Shards of Earth into my top books of 2021 are storytelling, characters, and worldbuilding. This fantastic concept is well realized through Tchaikovsky’s great plotting and experience-enhancing prose. This is a new take on the idea of dealing with cosmic entities beyond our comprehension, and they are overwhelmingly terrifying and alien. Tchaikovsky beautifully captures the emotional impact of living like your world could be obliterated at the drop of a hat by an entity completely out of your control, and it works very well as one of the major themes of the story. The plot has fantastic pacing, moving quickly from set piece to set piece and telling a story that exists both as to its own self-contained story and sets up future plotlines for the larger series. It is the exact sort of big storytelling, with high attention to detail, that I love to see in my space operas.

Our cast of characters is equally delightful. Idris is great on his own, but he is surrounded by the crew of The Vulture God who could rival any of the classic sci-fi spaceship crews for personality and diversity. In addition to the core crew, there are a number of POVs from rival factions, antagonists, and everything in between that go the extra mile to build out the world and paint a vivid and deep universe around the story. The different worlds and factions contribute to worldbuilding that begs to be expanded upon and explored. The “parts” of the book are broken into a focus on different planets that the protagonists spend time exploring, and each of them had a very unique feel and style that enhanced the feelings of adventure in the story. It felt like Indiana Jones in space and I could not put Shards of Earth Down.

I don’t really have any complaints or criticisms of the book. My only real negative thoughts are that some areas felt a little less well-realized than others and a few characters seemed to not have enough backstory compared to the rest of the cast. But I am honestly just nitpicking, this was easily one of the most solid books I have read this year and one of Tchaikovsky’s best.

Shards of Earth is an epic space opera that could not have better timing. It has an adventurous story sure to entertain every reader and a blueprint for the foundation of a much larger story. I loved the cast, the world, and the story. It is one of the sure-fire wins of the year. Don’t miss it.

Rating: Shards of Earth – 10/10
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I am a big fan of Adrian Tchaikovsky.  I have read a number of his other books and really enjoy the way he builds the worlds, develops the characters, and moves the story along at its own pace.  This applies to Shards of Earth as well, which makes this an enjoyable read.  By the end of the book, I am fully invested in each of the characters and their stories and want to know how everything turns out for them.

The overall idea and plot of the book is one I have not encountered before.  The idea of the "Architects" as a slave to a greater being, being forced to destroy intelligent life for unknown reasons is intriguing.  I would have liked to know more about how the Ints were created and what was done to them to allow them to navigate unspace as well as infiltrate the mind of an Architect.  The details around this were lacking in my opinion.

Other than that, I have no issues with the book and thoroughly enjoyed it.  I look forward to future installments of the series to see how things play out.
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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.
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DNF @22%

I can't believe I'm doing this, but I think it's about time that I DNF'd this.

After reading and loving the Children of Time duology by this author and LOVING it, I knew that I needed to read anything else by him that I could get my hands on. And when I saw that an eARC of this was available on NetGalley to request, I had to go for it.

Unfortunately, it was a big disappointment.

It's an adult sci-fi, but it reads more like YA. It's slow and info-dumpy and the two main characters read the exact same. And I've been reading this for over a month now and I just can't. I just have no interest in what's going on or what's happening so I'm just going to stop.

I'm also sad because I think there is a sapphic relationship somewhere in this book, but I don't think it's worth me reading this almost 600-page chunk-of-trees to find out :(

I do still think I will read more from this author, but something about this book just didn't work for me.

Thank you to NetGalley and the publishers for providing me with an eARC in exchange for an honest review!
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One of the best Space-Operas that I have encountered (Welcome to my favorites list).  Although there is not much new or unique here (we see fairly typical Sci-Fi tropes such as sentient AI, eugenic cloning, cybernetic biohacking, enigmatic aliens, hapless ship crew, et al.),  Tchaikovsky masterfully weaves it all into a compelling world that comes across in a way that makes it easy for the reader to imagine themselves in the story along with the [well developed] main characters.

A rather long prologue introduces us to the two main protagonists … an amazon clone and psionic “navigator” (with an apparent nod to Dune) that reunite decades after they fought off the Lovecraftian “Architects” attack on humanity … who join up with the rather eclectic crew of a deep space salvage vessel (whimsically called the 'Vulture God') retrieve a missing ship from the deep void of space.  This sets off a cascading adventure as the crew navigates through conflicting political schemes that draws the reader along to the point that you just don’t want to put the book down (it kept my attention into the dark hours of the early morning) and hands out a few [GoT] surprises along the way.  Ultimately we get a satisfying ending and a good setup for a sequel that I can’t wait to read ...

I was given this free advance reader copy (ARC) ebook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.
#ShardsOfEarth #NetGalley
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This is the first book in 'The Final Architects' series by award-winning science fiction writer Adrian Tchaikovsky.

The story takes place in the distant future when humans have colonized space and encountered many kinds of intergalactic species. The most frightening of these is an entity called an Architect, a creature as big as the moon, with crystalline spikes radiating from its surface.

An Architect appears suddenly over an inhabited world, then quickly reshapes it into a gigantic sculpture, killing everything that lives there. Architects seem unaware they're destroying sentient creatures, almost like humans view gnats.

An Architect destroyed Earth, but humanity still exists on planets and moons elsewhere in the universe. All worlds containing intelligent beings are on high alert, ready to evacuate at a moment's notice, in case an Architect appears in the sky. Nevertheless, 'sculpturing' by an Architect is so rapid that few can escape, and no weapons - even gravitic drives or mass looms - seem able to stop them.

The first being to successfully interact with an Architect was a human girl called Xavienne Torino. Xavienne's brain could 'connect' with an Architect somehow, and on one occasion Xavienne 'persuaded' an Architect to cease an attack and go away. Xavienne was dubbed an Intermediary, and an Intermediary Program was started to modify human recruits to mimic Xavienne's abilities. The modification - which consists of genetic manipulation, surgery, and intense conditioning - is so extreme that it kills most trainees.

However a few people get through the Intermediary Program, and several Intermediaries - working together - put a pause in the Architect attacks.

The Intermediaries also have another ability. They're able to guide spacecraft through 'unspace', a dangerous region that permits rapid travel across the universe. Unspace drives almost all creatures insane, and - except for Intermediaries - travelers must be sleeping to get through safely.

As the story opens, there hasn't been an Architect attack in decades, and planets across the universe are engaged in all manner of commerce, import, export, mining, trade, etc. that requires space travel. Thus all societies want Intermediaries.

Of the few existing Intermediaries, all but one are 'leashed' (under binding contracts). The lone 'free' Intermediary, named Idris Telemmier, is a navigator aboard a salvage vessel called the Vulture God, whose crew consists of a handful of humans and aliens.

Any number of organizations, gangs, armies, businesses, politicians and so on - both human and alien - are trying to get their hands (or claws or tentacles or whatever) on Idris....and they'll do ANYTHING to accomplish this goal. Thus everyone seems to be on the lookout for the Vulture God, to get access to the Intermediary.

Idris and the other crew members of the Vulture God are at the center of the story, and we follow their adventures as they crisscross the universe.

One group that wants Idris is the Parthenon, whose members are genetically engineered human women. The females, called Partheni, are among the best fighters in the universe, and they'd like Idris to join their ranks. The Parthenon sends one of its own, a woman called Solace, to recruit Idris, and she (temporarily) joins the crew of the Vulture God to try to persuade him.

On one of it's salvage jobs, the Vulture God finds an object that suggests the Architects are back, and this is the underlying theme of the book.

There's plenty of action in the story, with fighting, shooting, stabbing, stealing, killing, destruction, death, and so forth. There's also plenty of prevarication, scheming, conspiring and negotiation. All this makes for an excellent space saga.

Tchaikovsky does a good bit of world-building in the story, and describes all manner of humans; aliens; societies; civilizations; spaceships; weapons; criminals; soldiers; etc....everything you'd expect in a sci-fi novel.

It can get confusing, but Tchaikovsky helpfully includes a glossary as well as lists of worlds; characters, species; and ships. Best of all the author includes a detailed timeline - an outline that depicts the events in the universe that brought it to it's present state.

I enjoyed the book and look forward to the next novel in the series.

Thanks to Netgalley, Adrian Tchaikovsky, and Tor Publishers for a copy of the book.
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This caught me for the first half, bogged down in most of the second and left me wondering at the end. This is pure Science Fiction and the Architects are a very unusual and interesting life form. The characters were interesting and there was tension and danger throughout the book. If you want a pure SciFI book this is for you.
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This was one of my most anticipated reads of 2021 and unfortunately, I had to DNF it.  I gave it a good ~20%, but I really really could not get into the story.  I didn't care about the plot or the characters.  I thought the concept of the Architects was really intriguing, but it wasn't enough to outweigh everything else.  Super bummed that this didn't work for me, but I really hope it works for others.
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This wasn’t for me. I have enjoyed this author in the past, but I am not a fan of space opera or military sci-fi. The beginning bored me with all of the info dumping of back story and too many characters/alien species were introduced at once. I made it to the 20% point and realized that I was dreading continuing this long book and reading the next two books of the trilogy is unthinkable. I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.
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The Shards of Earth by Adrian Tchaikovsky is a great beginning to a new series. Having just finished the book, I can’t project where the rest of the series will go, which is a good thing. Not being able to do so is an indicator of the standalone nature of this book and of how it left me liturgically satisfied.

Book one of The Final Architecture series is about the interspecies crew of an independent salvage ship named the Vulture God. The ship and crew scour the galaxy in search of items that they have been privately contracted to retrieve. Their most recent assignment gets them in the middle of an interworld dispute over the re-emergence of The Architects, an unstoppable alien species that reshapes inhabited planets thus destroying them and their inhabitants. 

After locating and salvaging a destroyed ship they were contracted to find, the Vulture God gets hijacked by alien gangsters who steel both the ship and the wreck. The crew, with the help of a Parthini agent, manage to hijack their ship and salvaged prize back. The gangsters pursue them through unspace and finally recapturing the Vulture God on the outskirts of human space. The Partheni, a human clone warrior clan, boards the gangster’s ship, rescues the Vulture God and its crew, and sets up the scene for the book’s climatic finality, a battle with The Architects. 

One of the Vulture God’s crew members is an Intermediary Navigator named Idris Telemmier. Intermediaries have mental abilities that help them quickly calculate space routes through uncharted unspace. While Idris is in demand for his skill, he prefers to be part of the Vulture God crew and not be aligned with any government or political group. The humans want him repatriated so that they can use him. Idris is a survivor of the last war with The Architect and was the one who mentally communicated with it resulting in The Architect withdrawing from its world-destroying endeavor. When another Architect shows up over Berlenhof, a central human colonial administrative world, Idris volunteers to command a Partheni ship to attack The Architect and mentally defeat it. He fails in at both and is withdrawn to recuperate. Still recovering from his battle, he takes the Vulture God out to the battle and, this time, mind-melds with The Architect and once again gets it to withdraw. 

After several days of recovery, Idris warns the colonies that The Architect will be back and that they should stop celebrating its defeat and spend those efforts better preparing for the next battle. The book ends with Idris joining the Parthini warrior faction where he pledges to establish a class for training volunteers to become intermediaries. 

There was more going on in this book than the story. Human colonies are broken up into factions that reflect some of those we have today. There are the Nativists who want a homogeneous human-centric society and are against humans who disagree with them. There is a Hegemonic cult that looks to an alien race for care and protection and whose believers are willing to declare absolute fealty to them. There is the Parthenon whose followers believe that their righteous cloned purity and scientific advancements make them a benefactor class that can be called on to save humanity when threatened. And finally, there are the Hugh, Council of Human Interests, who are human centrist wishing to rule over all the human colonies. These factions are distrustful of each other and look for ways to spread their beliefs to the rest of humanity. 

I imagine that the next book takes off from where this one leaves off, but, even without another book, Shards of Earth was immensely enjoyable and was a good mentally engaging read.
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Adrian Tchaikovsky is one of my chief go-to authors of Hard Science Fiction. His world building is both exceptional and vivid, so  that I am immediately absorbed into the world(s) of the story. SHARDS OF EARTH is Book One of the new FINAL ARCHITECTURE Series,  in which "evolved" humans of various stripes battle against one of the most implacable foes ever invented,  world-destroying (quite literally). SHARDS OF EARTH is also suffused with wonder, terror, awe, and the full range of human emotions,  plus inventively created multiple alien species.  Hard science co-exists with philosophy and metaphysics, loyalty with betrayal,  love with hate. SHARDS OF EARTH is a richly rewarding reading experience,  and I eagerly anticipate Books Two and Three.

Release August 3 2021
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Most books from this are a safe bet, and I liked this one too. There are already a thousand ratings and reviews for this so I can't anything helpful except to recommend it.

Thanks very much for the free review copy!!
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Adrian Tchaikovsky has launched his new space opera series, The Final Architecture, with a highly action-oriented first volume Shards of Earth.  Unfortunately, there seem to be a large number of these series these days, and each series demands a commitment to reading an unknown number of high page-count volumes.  For example, and this is just a starting list: Alastair Reynolds’ Revelation Space, James S. A. Corey’s The Expanse, Peter F. Hamilton’s Commonwealth, Ian Banks’ Culture, etc.  And it seems like everyone from Linda Nagata to John Scalzi has also been jumping into space opera series lately.  This is unfortunate for Adrian Tchaikovsky, at any rate, because Shards of Earth is actually a pretty good entry in the explosively growing subgenre with little room left for differentiation.  

My one-sentence plot summary - A rag-tag, but heart-filled, small crew of humans, post-humans, and non-humans rides the edges of law, to confront a mysterious and mighty threat. The story opens with a Prologue, in which we are introduced to the two main characters in the heat of a space battle to save humanity’s primary remaining world. Idris Telemmier is an Intermediary, adept at entering unspace, where faster-than-light travel is navigated, but also where the enigmatic Architects can be sensed.  Myrmidon Solace is a member of a parthenogenic race of human warrior women, to whose warship Idris is assigned as a last resort in the defense of Berlenhof.  That battle is won, but the war is not over until years later when the Architects simply withdraw and disappear.  Now, in the time of the story, Solace is called back on an assignment to find Idris in his self-exile, and recruit him in a power conflict between human factions.

The reader’s awareness of the cluster of humans, post-humans, and non-human civilizations in conflict with the Architects begins to grow when Solace finds Idris on a small salvage ship.  There are frequent reversals of fortune, and few moments of rest, and the ship is tossed from one polity to the next.  By midway through the book, the world is complexly built, and the reader is finally ready to revisit and understand better the events of the Prologue.  Fortunately, there is a glossary and a timeline in an appendix that can also help.

So, what does differentiate this space opera? Well, for one thing, Tchaikovsky’s unspace is a transcendent layer of reality which seems to be entered telepathically, and where all sorts of things are possible. To me this mystical concept seems more typical of supernaturalism than SF. Of course, there are plenty of volumes yet to be written in which plausible explanations may be forthcoming – but for now, it seems too easy to just whip up more visual metaphors, whatever the plot tension requires. For me, this is not a good thing. Secondly, there are moments where I feel Tchaikovsky is deliberately playing with the tropes of the subgenre. For example, the characters are said to be speaking future evolved languages, such as Colvul and Parsef, not English – but Robbelin, the biologist on Jericho, has an outrageously Australian accent. For me, this IS a good thing.

In all, I found the novel to be good entertainment, but not as noteworthy as some of Tchaikovsky’s shorter works.

I read an Advance Reader Copy of Shards of Earth, by Adrian Tchaikovsky in ebook, which I received from Hachette Book Group through in exchange for an honest review on social media platforms and on my book review blog. This new title is scheduled for release on 3 August 2021.
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Tchaikovsky knows how to write an epic, both in sf and fantasy. This is another book with large-scale events that makes you pause in awe of the authors ideas. Great stuff!
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Sooner or later, Adrian Tchaikovsky is going to make me learn to spell his name. His output rivals Sanderson's, but his willingness to explore more worlds, without the same meticulous detail that tends to bog down other authors, makes him fascinating to me. Children of Time was one of my favorite books of 2020, and while Shards of Earth doesn't rival it, I found it  compelling. 

An exceptionally long 'Prologue' is the lynchpin between two characters that we will follow the rest of the book. It begins: "In the seventy-eighth year of the war, an Architect came to Berlenhof." Tchaikovsky is generally of the immersion school of sci-fi; he will give you the details, but you need to assemble the pieces, and the Prologue is no exception. There's a lot of ideas dropped here, but the main one is that the unfightable and unknowable Architects are remodeling life as they encounter it, and to date, no one has been able to establish contact. This moment in time will be pivotal, and both Solace and Idris Telemmier will play major roles. Solace is a soldier in the Heaven's Sword Sorority, "the Parthenon. Humans, for a given value of human. The engineered warrior women who had been the Colonies' shield ever since the fall of Earth." Idris is a Colonial and part of the newest 'weapon' deployed against the Architects.

The Prologue is a meaty piece of sci-fi, and I confess, after investing in it, I wanted it to continue. It was a version of The Expanse, tv show), space battle style, with human players against crushing odds in a complicated and only partially understood universe. Unfortunately, as the Prologue ends we get foreshadowing that the investment in world-building is about to pay uncertain dividends: "Thirty-nine years after that, they woke Solace from cold storage one more time and said her warrior skills were needed." Thus the epic space battle turns into a new book, that of a contentious crew of salvagers caught up in galactic events.

If you've followed me more than a few minutes, you know I've been on a sci-fi binge, and the crew-of-misfits in space seems to be one that I gravitate to. Between The Expanse (the show!!) and Suzanne Palmer's Finder series, I've been enjoying the outer reaches of the galaxy, at least after humanity has solved that pesky distance-spanning/lifespan issue. So when I say the rest of the story felt largely familiar, I'm not meaning any insult--it's a subgenre I like. I did hope that Tchaikovsky would bring some of his particular ingenuity, specifically aliens and lifeforms that felt alien, to his version of misfits-in-space. Sadly, it was only near the end where I felt a little bit of that mental frission when I encounter something unique. 

The odd-ball crew of seven contains two alien lifeforms and members of humanity from different Colonies, giving a glimpse into potential alien and cultural weirdness, particularly with Kittering, "a crab-like alien," and Medvig, "an intelligence distributed across a knot of cyborg roaches." Unfortunately, Tchaikovsky is willing to break genre rules about red-shirts, which means that the reader may reach out and connect with the different characters, but that experience may be cut short. Considering that this is the first book in what is presumably a series/trilogy, willingness to remove characters felt like an impediment to reader engagement. Contrast with The Expanse, which created a diverse group of people for the reader/audience engagement and took books to remove traces of their influence if they were removed from the story.

I'll also note there were a couple parts where I felt we were getting a little more fantasy than sci-fi, stretching the realm of genre rules (much like the proto-molecule), so take that for what you will. There's a bit about space travel and the unseen which is supposed to stand in for light speed/warp/etc and occasionally seems more mystical than science (don't argue with me: I know science at that level is mystical. Read this and you'll see what I mean). Reminded me of Anne McCaffery's The Rowan, published in 1990.

On the whole, it was engrossing, literally keeping my focus for four hours of a flight. That deserves a bonus all on it's own.

Many, many thanks to both Netgalley and Orbit for the advance reader copy. Of course all opinions are my own--you ever know me to be a mouthpiece for someone else? Also, of course, all quotes are subject to change.
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