Welcome to Trope Check, what is either a one-off or a possible series, in which I examine how unique works of fiction deal with familiar tropes in fun, new, and exciting ways!
#0. Play Catch-Up!
If you’re unfamiliar with the bloody brilliant 𝖕𝖎𝖊𝖈𝖊 𝖔𝖋 🅐🅡🅣 that is Adrian Tchaikovsky’s SHARDS OF EARTH, you should first check out my video review(give us a like and subscribe on YouTube, precious):
All caught up? Grand!
Shards of Earth deploys a number of tropes that will be familiar to those of you who fancy themselves veterans
of the Clone Wars of the space opera subgenre of sci-fi! The ten tropes below only begin to cover all the fun inside Shards of Earth but hell, it’s a grand beginning if there ever was one! At the title of every one of these is a link that’ll guide you to tvtropes, if you’re interested in reading more about these tropes in general.
It could be that the Originators are a neglectful lot. They’ve gone to all the trouble of creating the Throughways, paths between planets that make use of unspace. Throughways are the only lanes accessible to ships that lack navigators who, like the human Intermediaries, are capable of accessing and navigating unspace. More on them later!
The Originators have done more than just carve out paths into unspace, however; they have also left ruins and artifacts behind. These are not quite the Prothean ruins of Mass Effect fame–they don’t seem to offer great technological advances to humanity and seem overall useless, or so humanity thinks at first. Turns out, the Originator ruins and artifacts keep the Architects at bay — which humanity catches on a little too late, only after Earth has been transformed into a crystalline sculpture of horror.
So where are the Originators? Why haven’t they solved all the Architect problems in the galaxy, the whole bloody universe?
It’s safe to assume the answer goes well beyond “Because it would make for a boring story”. Somehow, I suspect Tchaikovsky will have his fun in revealing the truth behind these enigmatic precursors, and just what the heck happened with them.
The Hegemony, an advanced space-faring empire claiming heritage with the Originators, is bashful about expanding its territory through force of arms; its representatives prefer to negotiate and persuade with promises of defense against the Architects.
When humanity first encounters the Hegemony, the two diverse cultures struggle to communicate clearly, to what is a tragic degree: despite the Hegemony’s attempts to warn humanity about the danger of the Architects, this warning goes unheeded. By the time this language barrier is breached, it is far too late.
#4: Amazon Brigade
The Partheni, genetically engineered to be human perfection incarnate, are all women, and the most militarily advanced arm of humanity. Main character Solace is even part of a squad named “Angels of Kicking Your Ass” – the name speaks for itself!
Ships have the capacity to enter into unspace, cutting through the impossible spaces between solar systems. However, the experience is not fantastic, because…
This one is a double whammy, so what’s up with that?! I’m glad you asked, Reader!
Traveling through unspace is hard. There’s the isolation of it – you’re never going to travel with anyone else. As soon as you enter unspace, you’re alone, all alone…or are you? There’s a presence, lingering just at the back of your mind. And it’s coming closer, it’s closing the distance, it’s crawling up your spine and weighing on your shoulder…
That’s why most everyone only enters unspace while asleep in a special cradle, which protects passengers’ mental health. That’s great, because folks are prone to go crazy otherwise, and sabotage their own ships!
Not just one race of aliens, but several! First and foremost are the Architects, whose scale is so far beyond anything humanity has experience with: they are “moon-sized entities that can reshape populated planets and ships”.
The Essiel, masters of the Hegemony, are the other inscrutable aliens. Why do they do what they do? What’s their relationship with the Originators? How about their history with the Architects? Why do they seek supremacy over other species, and why do they only accept it through wilful submission?
Remember how I described the Architects? Now imagine trying to stop them? It’s not exactly feasible, is it? How about slowing them down? How do you slow down a moon? Throw a bunch of sharp, pointy, explody things at it? They’re liable to turn into crystals before they ever reach the Architect; and even if they do – it’s much more likely that the bloody alien will just restructure itself. There really isn’t much humanity can do for much of the Architect War, we are told early on – until the Intermediaries, who allow humanity the opportunity to make contact with these big bad inscrutable aliens.
Jericho seems to be it:
“They found a planet a little closer than Earth to a sun a little cooler than Earth’s. Then they found a biosphere crammed full of riotous life whose biochemistry overlapped with Earth by at least forty per cent. An Eden! surveyors crowed. Then the planet’s biochemistry ate two of the landing party and they quickly revised their estimate to A monstrous death world!“
But then again, maybe not.
#10: Scary Dogmatic Aliens:
The Essiel fit well into this trope. The Hegemony seems to revolve around harmonic values and spirituality in ways that trigger all kinds of red flags. Worse yet, they can be scary, Scary, SCARY, and at least one of them is liable to sic nigh-immortal aliens on you.
That’s it for me, folks! Thanks for reading, please purchase this book, I think it’s phenomenal and one of the best science fiction space operas I’ve read.
This high-stakes space-based adventure will be perfect for those who loved Children of Time, also by Adrian Tchaikovsky.
The war is over. Its heroes forgotten. Until one chance discovery . . .
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.
Praise for Adrian Tchaikovsky:
‘Brilliant science fiction’ – James McAvoy on Children of Time
‘Full of sparkling, speculative invention’ – Stephen Baxter on The Doors of Eden
Shards of Earth is the first thrilling instalment in the Final Architecture trilogy – by the Arthur C. Clarke award-winning novelist Adrian Tchaikovsky.