Monday 22 August 2022

CBR14 Book 20: "Shards of Earth" by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Page count: 558 pages
Audio book length: 18 hrs 43 mins
Rating: 4 stars
CBR14 Bingo: Cold (the majority of this novel is set in space, which is famously very cold)
Official book description:
Idris has neither aged nor slept since they remade his mind in the war. And one of humanity’s heroes now scrapes by on a freelance salvage vessel, to avoid the attention of greater powers.

Eighty years ago, Earth was destroyed by an alien enemy. Many escaped, but millions more died. So mankind created enhanced humans ­such as Idris - who could communicate mind-to-mind with our aggressors. Then these ‘Architects’ simply disappeared and Idris and his kind became obsolete.

Now, Idris and his crew have something strange, abandoned in space. It’s clearly the work of the Architects – but are they really returning? And if so, why? Hunted by gangsters, cults, and governments, Idris and his crew race across the galaxy as they search for answers. For they now possess something of incalculable value, and many would kill to obtain it.

Shards of Earth was the July book club pick of my fantasy/sci-fi book club, and unusual for me, I had actually finished the book BEFORE the meeting. Right? I was as shocked as I'm sure you were. The general consensus of the people at the meeting who had finished the book (most of them) was that it was entertaining, but that the beginning of the book was rather slow and info-dumpy and that the plot narrative didn't necessarily benefit from each new section of the book arresting the plot momentum by going into a flashback, giving the reader background info relevant to this planet/section of space. A couple of people were especially annoyed by this, I think I'd gotten used to it by the third time the book changes location.

As is the case with a lot of sci-fi adventure, we follow a ragtag bunch of space farers, some of the more prominent being Idris, a man who was surgically and genetically modified early in the war against the huge and unfathomable Architects and for reasons I'm sure will be revealed in a later book in the series, has neither slept nor aged since his surgery. Idris and the others who were modified during the war were called Intermediaries, shortened to 'Ints' as the fighting wore on. Their mission was to try to telepathically connect with the giant, destructive moon-sized Architects in the hope to stop them from turning inhabited planets and settlements into abstract works of art, devoid of life. Idris was part of group of Ints who actually managed to mind meld with an Architect eighty years ago, and as a result, the massive alien disappeared, no Architects seen or heard from since. 

The surviving Ints also had an unprecedented ability to navigate ships through space, managing to find paths through the Void that others can't. This makes them extremely prized pilots, and caused the institute who created the first Ints to continue their experiments even after the war, creating in effect an indentured slave class forced to work as pilots until their brains give in. Idris is one of extremely few original Ints left, and bound to no one. To make sure he doesn't get kidnapped or stolen into slavery, he travels with his own lawyer, who can get him out of any scrape. They both reside the salvage vessel The Vulture God with a number of colourful rogues. 

Our other major POV character in the story is Solace of the Partheni. The Partheni are elite female soldiers, all genetically engineered by a scientist shortly before the start of the Architect War. They proved to be extremely useful in fighting the Architects and Solace was there when Idris and others took on an Architect in the final battle of the war. She hasn't aged noticeably either, but only because she's been kept in suspended animation. Now her superiors have need of her and a rather sensitive job they need her to perform, and Solace will need to locate and reunite with Idris.

Solace and the crew of the Vulture God find something very unexpected on what was supposed to be a routine salvage mission. Now they seem to be hunted through space by various groups of space mafia and criminals, as well as government officials and Idris can sense very worrying things in the Void that suggest that the decades of peace may be coming to an end. 

I listened to this book in audio and was surprised to find that the narrator is Sophie Aldred. To most people, that name means very little. But married as I am to the biggest Doctor Who nerd of my acquaintance, to me, Sophie Aldred will always be Ace, the Seventh Doctor's companion (who famously beat up a dalek with a baseball bat in one story). Because she was the main companion on Doctor Who when my husband was a child and first watched the show, he's obviously especially fond of that era, and I've seen pretty much all the stories with her. I've also listened to a lot of audio dramas with her, because we don't play at being Doctor Who fans in our household. Big Finish Audios are an important supplemental source of stories. So it was really strange to me, and probably took me about an hour or so of the novel to get used to Ace telling me the story, except of course, she wasn't Ace at all. Aldred is in fact a very good narrator, who manages to give the various characters, no matter what origin (there are quite a few aliens and cybernetic characters). I suspect listening to book 2 will be less of an adjustment. 

This was my first novel by Adrian Tchaikovsky. It clearly won't be the last. 
Judging a book by its cover: There was some discussion during our book club about the cover of the novel. About half of the members think it was a bit too generically sci-fi, especially with the cold shades of blue and a lot of black with some scattered spacecraft. I personally think it's quite cool, especially with the planet in the lower right corner in the process of being opened up and rearranged by the Architects. The second cover is mostly in shades of red, and my bet is going to be that the third novel in the trilogy is dominated by green.
Crossposted on Cannonball Read.