Novella Review: Elder Race by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Title: Elder Race

Author: Adrian Tchaikovsky

Series: N/A

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 2.5/5 stars

The Overview: Lynesse is the lowly Fourth Daughter of the queen, and always getting in the way. But a demon is terrorizing the land, and now she’s an adult (albeit barely) and although she still gets in the way, she understands that the only way to save her people is to invoke the pact between her family and the Elder sorcerer who has inhabited the local tower for as long as her people have lived here (though none in living memory has approached it). But Elder Nyr isn’t a sorcerer, and he is forbidden to help, for his knowledge of science tells him the threat cannot possibly be a demon… -Goodreads

The Review:

While a decent novella, this wasn’t my favorite work from Tchaikovsky by a long shot.

The main appeal was discovering what’s inside the structure on the cover and how it’s significant to the people of this world. That aspect was satisfying and actually a lot more reminiscent of his other works than I was expecting.

The best part of the story were the characters. The author played around with cultural communication barriers that added variety depending on which POV we were in. I liked that it wasn’t a blanket “technology will solve all of our problems” situation and certain discrepancies in language still existed. There were also a couple of… alternately composed humans (aquatic) that I wish had gotten more of a highlight. That’s the thing about Tchaikovsky’s works: he’s so creative that he just casually throws in ideas that could warrant entire books within themselves. He did the same thing in Children of Time. It’s so much fun to read, but occasionally you find yourself craving some elaboration on the minor stuff.

There was a technology that allowed the user to compartmentalize emotional reactions, where they could still tell they were having them, but didn’t have to feel them directly. This came at a cost, though, as you’d have to face the emotions eventually to avoid a mental breakdown. I loved this aspect and thought the way it was written into the story was brilliant. The “voice” of the character actively changed in the text depending on whether or not this technology was being used. And I thought it a clever way to give the character depth.

Even with great elements, what didn’t work for me was the pacing. A novella shouldn’t feel like it’s dragging with such a low page count. But I felt the good character moments and the plot reveals we’re just a little too staggered. All working towards and ending that was good, but not quite worth the lengthily build-up. I probably would’ve rated it a lot higher had it been a bit more concise. I think the culprit was a little too much introspection and reiteration of events. There were two POVs and we got internal accounts of everything from both sides. While seeing two such different viewpoints of the same situations was kind of the point of the book, I don’t think it needed to be time equally spent.

Recommendations: Elder Race is an interesting short story from an author shaping up to be a personal favorite, but if you’re new to his sci-fi works, this isn’t the best place to start (go with Children of Time… emphatically).

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes


Book Review: Children of Ruin by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Title: Children of Ruin

Author: Adrian Tchaikovsky

Series: Children of Time #2

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 2/5 stars

The Overview: Long ago, Earth’s terraforming program sent ships out to build new homes for humanity among the stars and made an unexpected discovery: a planet with life. But the scientists were unaware that the alien ecosystem was more developed than the primitive life forms originally discovered. Now, thousands of years later, the Portiids and their humans have sent an exploration vessel following fragmentary radio signals. They discover a system in crisis, warring factions trying to recover from an apocalyptic catastrophe arising from what the early terraformers awoke all those years before. -Goodreads

The Review:

Children of Time is still my favorite book of 2022. Children of Ruin… not so much.

Truthfully I had a hard time finishing this one. At 80% I was forcing myself through it to the point where I initially called a DNF before deciding to just speed read to the end. I mean, I’d heard it wasn’t as good as the first one, but I wasn’t expecting to be so completely disengaged.

So what changed between books one and two? My theory is character connection. CoT was a brilliantly composed character study that managed to make me care deeply about the creatures involved. It was especially impressive that he managed to evoke that given that it was also a multi-generational story. CoR showed glimmers of good character work at the beginning, but quickly set it aside in favor of extensive theorizing and info dumps. Even the return of some familiar faces didn’t help, and in some ways actually made things worse, as none of them showed any of the depth I remember from the first book.

As you may have heard, CoT focuses on a society of spiders, whereas CoR focuses on cephalopods (octopi). I wouldn’t say spiders are any less alien to human ways of thinking and functioning as a society than cephalopods, but the way Tchaikovsky chose to present both offered wildly different experiences. The spiders came across somewhat relatable, where as the cephalopods’ society and forms of communication were so alien it was hard to form a connection to them. The creatures used complex color patterns to communicate. And the use of general impressions and imagery in place of dialogue was amazing and creative and cool… but it wasn’t engaging in the slightest. My favorite part about CoR was learning more about these creatures, but they weren’t solid, distinct enough “characters” to make me feel more than a curious interest in them.

So without anyone to latch onto, I started to feel disengaged from the story. And then the plot got a bit confusing and I lost even more momentum. So by the time I made it to the end (by the skin of my teeth), I was checked out.

I know this author can dazzle me, and by no means am I finished exploring his works. CoR had a lot of great base elements to it, I just think it lost me on some of the execution choices. I’m still looking forward to Children of Memory, but with perhaps a little less enthusiasm than after CoR.

Recommendations: while the biological components were every bit as cool as the stuff found in CoT, all of the other story elements fell a bit flat. At the moment I’d say consider CoT a stand-alone and don’t bother with this sequel, but that may change after I read the third book.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes


Novella Review: Sins of Our Fathers by James S.A. Corey

Title: Sins of Our Fathers

Author: James S.A. Corey

Series: Expanse #9.5

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: Through one of the gates, a colony stands alone. Their supplies are low. Their defenses, weak. The leadership is uncertain, and the community fragile. Huge alien beasts threaten the little they have left. But the worst monsters are human, and the greatest dangers are the past they brought. –Goodreads

The Review:

While this didn’t give me the big picture answers I was hoping for, it reminded me why I love the Expanse. It also provided the much-needed opportunity to walk away from the series with positive feelings, as Leviathan Falls left me feeling underwhelmed (“can you ever be just whelmed?” That may be a more accurate description). The story here doesn’t really have anything to do with the final book, but rather is an exploration of humanity and how circumstances shape our lives (as ever with their writing). I found it deeply profound. And it provided a resonance for the rest of the series and all of the fall-out from events culminating to this point. Things ever remain human-driven, whether epic or mundane. I loved it.

And I want more.

by Niki Hawkes


Book Review: Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Title: Children of Time

Author: Adrian Tchaikovsky

Series: Children of Time #1

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 5/5 stars!!! <-Rare

The Overview: A race for survival among the stars… Humanity’s last survivors escaped earth’s ruins to find a new home. But when they find it, can their desperation overcome its dangers? WHO WILL INHERIT THIS NEW EARTH? The last remnants of the human race left a dying Earth, desperate to find a new home among the stars. Following in the footsteps of their ancestors, they discover the greatest treasure of the past age—a world terraformed and prepared for human life. But all is not right in this new Eden. In the long years since the planet was abandoned, the work of its architects has borne disastrous fruit. The planet is not waiting for them, pristine and unoccupied. New masters have turned it from a refuge into mankind’s worst nightmare. Now two civilizations are on a collision course, both testing the boundaries of what they will do to survive. As the fate of humanity hangs in the balance, who are the true heirs of this new Earth? -Goodreads

The Review:

Add Children of Time to my very short list of all-time favorites!!

So many things about it worked for me. First of all, I’m especially drawn to Scifi stories with a strong biological component (Julie Czerneda has been a long-time favorite in that regard), and not only was this one bursting with alien flora and fauna awesomeness, but it also had a strong anthropological angle. I read so many Scifi where the most creative they get with world-building is what type of tech is used on this group of ships vs that one, so it’s wonderful to get the same level of expansive creation I usually have to defer to fantasy novels to experience.

This is my first Tchaikovsky, and it definitely won’t be my last. He made so many brilliant writing decisions in this book that I was left in awe. He had really creative solutions to some story logistics that would’ve left me stumped. Like how to tell the story over multiple generations while maintaining your reader’s connection to the characters. Sometimes it’s as simple as giving them the same name – something I never would’ve thought of. He handled the time jumps for the humans with similar grace, establishing a trust with me very early on in his ability to deliver a satisfying story.

What’s more, I found out mid-read that the author majored in both Zoology and Psychology – both of which spark my interest so much I can hardly stand it. And both backgrounds clearly enhanced the story. I love it when authors take a background of deep knowledge and apply that to their writing.

The book had the perfect balance of world-building, character connection, pacing, momentum, and then he topped it all off with a brilliant finish. I’m sure I’ll be talking about this one for years to come.

Recommendations: one of my all-time favorites! If you like Scifi with a good dose of anthropological components and creature creations, this is an excellent pick. It’s imaginative, exciting, and incredibly well-composed – I can’t recommend it highly enough!

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes


Book Review: Semiosis by Sue Burke

Title: Semiosis

Author: Sue Burke

Series: Semiosis Duology #1

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 2/5 stars

The Overview: In this character driven novel of first contact by debut author Sue Burke, human survival hinges on an bizarre alliance. Only mutual communication can forge an alliance with the planet’s sentient species and prove that mammals are more than tools. Forced to land on a planet they aren’t prepared for, human colonists rely on their limited resources to survive. The planet provides a lush but inexplicable landscape–trees offer edible, addictive fruit one day and poison the next, while the ruins of an alien race are found entwined in the roots of a strange plant. Conflicts between generations arise as they struggle to understand one another and grapple with an unknowable alien intellect. -Goodreads

The Review:

I didn’t enjoy anything about this book.

Not the characters, not the story, not the trajectory, and most particularly not the execution. Nothing worked for me.

First of all, the basic title and premise give away a lot about what to expect in the story itself. The reader ventures in with a pretty good idea of what’s going on already, so right there the sense of discovery I crave in books was mitigated. What’s more, the reader may know, but the characters don’t, which was a classic case of dramatic irony – where the audience is aware of what’s going on, so they feel a couple of steps removed from the drama… and then the characters take forever to figure things out. Because of this I felt disconnected from the very beginning.

Then the disconnection compounded with each new POV. It’s one of those multi-generational novels where just about the time you get acclimated with a new character, there’s a time jump. I enjoyed the stories but didn’t feel particularly invested in any of them. I suppose from an anthropological standpoint it was interesting to see how society both devolved and adjusted over the course of time, but at the end of the day it was all a bit too simple to really keep my interest.

But I kept reading for the draw of the alien flora and fauna of the world.

Yet even that didn’t play out in a way I found satisfying at the end of the day. The best bits were in the first chapter or two where you really got to immerse in the wildness of this new place. But that interesting world building quickly got replaced by societal drama and an alien entity whom I thought more akin to an AI on a spaceship than an actual foreign creation…

The whole thing was disappointing. Nowhere near where I wanted it to be.

I decided I didn’t care enough about experiencing more in this series to continue with the second book, so I looked up spoilers to see how it ended. I’m such a completionist that those who know me will appreciate how extreme that was and take it as a testament on how much I didn’t care for the first book. It’s like all the ingredients were there with moments of good flavoring, but at the end of the day the author was making cake and I wanted pie (that’s a bad metaphor because I will always eagerly accept both cake and pie, but you get my drift).

Recommendations: this was not one of my favorites, but if you like the idea of a more biological & anthropological scifi (usually my favorite type), this may fit the bill. I was surprised to see how many of my fellow reviewers on GR absolutely loved this book, so I’m definitely in the minority here. Also look up trigger warnings before diving in.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes


DNF Q&A: Mutineer by Mike Shepherd

Title: Mutineer

Author: Mike Shepherd

Series: Kris Longknife

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 1/5 stars

The Overview: Kris Longknife is a daughter of privilege, born to money and power. Her father is the Prime Minister of her home planet. Her mother the consummate politician’s wife. She’s been raised only to be beautiful and marry well. But the heritage of the military Longknifes courses through Kris’s blood-and, against her parents’ objections, she enlists in the marines. -Goodreads

The Review:

When trying to make a decision on whether or not to read something, it can often be much more helpful to look at the low star ratings than the high ones. To that end I’m going to be including more DNF reviews in my lineup. I have a Q&A format here that I adapted from Nikki at There Were Books Involved (with permission, which is important even if her blog doesn’t exist anymore), and I think it’s a great way to discuss the book constructively. Here goes:

Did you really give Mutineer a chance?

Not as much as I usually give before throwing in the towel – 25%. But it was clear from very early on the book was not going to resonate with me.

Have you enjoyed other books in the same genre?

Space Opera SciFi? Heck yeah! Even the cheesier ones. I was hoping this series would be a fun palate cleanser between other reads, but alas. Here are a few I enjoyed a lot more:

Did you have certain expectations before starting it?

Hopeful optimism that the books would be at least 3-star quality. Beyond that I felt like I was ready to put up with a lot of weaker components if the overall story was entertaining.

What ultimately made you stop reading?

Ugh. About the point where the main character was in someone’s kitchen planetside describing the finer points of white flour and Ghirardelli chocolates, I lost patience. We were so completely removed from what I signed up for that I’d had enough. I read a few chapters more, but knew it was going to be a DNF. There were just too many things leading up to that point that had me dissatisfied.

Character development was one of the biggest misses.

The main character was not realistic to me in the slightest. Having suffered trauma at an early age, the character experienced several unbelievable reactions early on in the book. Where the mere mention of the event sent her into fits of fainting, unable to control her body. It was eye-rolling and very immature.

I’m by no means downplaying the different effects trauma can have on someone. To add context, this woman grew up very wealthy (using the “poor little rich girl” angle that drove me crazy) and her family was aware of the trauma. As infeasible as I find it that someone with that much distance from the event and resources available to heal from it would still be experiencing reactions to that degree years later, it’s the fact that she’s a ranking military officer that finalized how much I disliked that plot point. I’ve never been in the military, but I’m pretty sure they don’t let you in without background checks and psychological evaluations to ensure you’re not going to have episodes in the middle of dangerous situations where you could get others killed. At the very least she would’ve gotten help from the base shrink.

This is a very specific rant, yet the unrealistic aspects of the story kept trickling in left and right to the point where the author lost my trust in his ability to deliver a story that would work for me.

The final tip off was when the main character’s parents were introduced, and as it turns out she was not only a spoiled rich girl, but a petulant one at that. Peace out.

Is there anything you liked about Mutineer?

The fact that it was a Scifi. Although considering how little of the first part had to do with actual space, I’m more or less assuming here.

Would you read anything else by the author?

No. I need things to make more sense than they did here, and I need more realistic development of characters. The author and I are so far apart on preferences that I don’t think it possible to ever meet in the middle.

So you DNFed the book. Would you still recommend it?

Well, since most my complaints were very specific dislikes about the plot itself (and how unrealistic I found them), perhaps someone with more patience and a willingness to go with the flow might actually like it when they get to the space parts. At this point I probably wouldn’t mention it even in passing to someone though. Most books that I don’t like are from an evaluation standpoint, whereas this one actively annoyed the snot out of me lol.

by Niki Hawkes