Made Things – Pulls The Right Strings

44581532I have a fear of dolls. Or maybe not a fear, so much as I find them intensely off putting. Their miniature faces are creepy, and any horror story that involves dolls coming to life and murdering people deeply upsets me. So, when the lovely people at Tor.com sent me Made Things, a novella by Adrian Tchaikovsky about a dollmaker who brings her creations to life, I had mixed feelings. On the one hand, Tchaikovsky is one of the most imaginative writers of the last decade and I generally like almost everything he writes. On the other hand, creepy murder dolls that might infest my nightmares. It is safe to say that I was negatively disposed to the concept from the start, thus the fact that I loved this novella should say something about Tchaikovsky’s skill as a writer.

The plot of the book is short and sweet: Coppelia is a street thief, a trickster, a low-level con artist living in a famous magical city. She is an urchin barely scraping by in a metropolis run by elite archmages. Normally this would spell doom for a person in her situation, but Coppelia has a little magic up her sleeves. She is a skilled puppet maker and has survived by stealing money from unsuspecting tourists through a puppet show. However, recently her creations have been coming to life. She discovers she has the power to infuse tiny homunculi with life, and she is not the only one. By teaming up with these made things they have opened doors for her into new opportunities. They don’t entirely trust her, and she doesn’t entirely understand them, but their partnership seems to work well. However, when they make a magical discovery that threatens to destroy the city they all call home, they must make some hard choices.

I know that plot description was fairly vague, but this is a novella and I didn’t want to spoil too much. The story is a lot of fun and involves a lot of politicking, character growth, a heist, and some really cool magic. The world-building has an impressive amount of detail for a novella. The city feels fleshed out and lived in, the magic feels complicated but adheres to clearly stated rules, and the threats/antagonists are easy to identify and rally against. A lot of this is helped by the cast being so likable. There are essentially three leads and a large support cast. For the leads, we have the aforementioned Coppelia and two homunculi: Tef and Arc. All three are wonderful and each have unique wants and agendas that are explored through the story but revolve around a core theme – survival in a harsh world. For Coppelia, that means scraping together a living in a world that cares nothing for her. For Tef and Arc, it means scraping together an existence in hiding when the world would pull them apart to see how they work.

The homunculi, in general, are fascinating. Tchaikovsky has done an impressively imaginative job of exploring all sorts of made people. There are one made of wax, paper, steel, wood, and any other substance you can think of. Some are small, some are large, some can fly, others are immobile. And for each, Tchaikovsky provides a window into how their existence, and personalities, are defined by what they were made from. A large steel doll might be courageous and brash, but have a phobia of water and rusting. A homunculus made of paper sees threats to her existence everywhere, as a simple tear could mean the end of her. Together they make an eclectic and fascinating people that are fun to explore.

The book is a rollercoaster ride with a fast pace and an explosive end. I read it in a single sitting and never thought once about putting it down. The ending does feel slightly abrupt, but that is often par for the course with novellas and is more a problem with the medium than anything else. Tchaikovsky’s Made Things is a fun, well built, adventure that helped me look at magical dolls in a new way. It has an interesting world, likable characters, and attention to detail when it comes to bringing these homunculi to life. Hopefully, this novella will be the starting point of a new novel as I want to dig a little deeper into everything. I would love to come back and overturn more rocks, dredge more canals, and explore more magical vaults to discover what else Tchaikovsky has hidden in Made Things. You probably can’t go wrong with this short story, and I recommend you check it out.

Rating: Made Things – 8.0/10
-Andrew

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The Tiger And The Wolf – Team Maniye

911er8bm6nlThis was a hard book to summarize my feelings on. The Tiger and the Wolf, by Adrian Tchaikovsky, is a weird novel built on the premise of shapeshifters. Set in a fantasy world where every human belongs to an animal tribe, individuals are all capable of shapeshifting into their peoples’ totem animal at will. It is a fairly common magical system in fantasy, but like all things that Tchaikovsky infuses with his imagination, The Tiger and the Wolf manages to stand out from novels with similar premises by diving deep into the duality of man and beast and building a world that is awe-inspiring to explore.

The world of Tiger & Wolf is a fractious one, with most animal tribes competing (and waging war) for land and resources. This is particularly true in the north, where the hearty tiger, wolf, bear, eagle, seal, boar, and deer fight to survive the habitually recurring frost. The Tiger tribe once ruled the north uncontested – until the various wolf clans banded together and threw them down. In the process, one of the wolf clan leaders took the tiger queen hostage and had a child – Maniye. Maniye in our main protagonist and she has an interesting problem – she has two spirit animals. Being able to “step” into both the form of a wolf AND a tiger initially sounds like a blessing. However, Tchaikovsky does an incredible job of bringing the nature and majesty of each animal to life in their respective tribes, and the tiger and the wolf HATE one another. The spirits of the various tribes are not faceless forces, but sentient deities with agendas – and the tiger and the wolf both despise the girl who forces them to “be in the same room”.

The majority of the book follows the escapades of Maniye, and how her duel heritage constantly makes her the center of conflict and intrigue. In particular, her father wants to use her tiger heritage to subjugate the remaining tigers that survived his war – a plan that she wants no part of. As Maniye continually (literally) runs from this fate she meets a cast of fantastic support characters and travels all around this fascinating world introducing us to a number of interesting animal tribes. The side cast really is memorable, in particular, the snake priest who finally makes serpents feel like good guys for once. The animal tribes are all extremely well developed and you will find yourself burning through the pages to learn about all of them. Additionally, on top of the grade-A worldbuilding, the combat is absolutely stunning. The individuals of this world all fight by blending their human and animal forms into unique fighting styles and reading the characters move between their forms with such fluidity makes the fighting feel innovative, original, and brings the clans to life.

However, as I mentioned at the start of this review this was a difficult book to review. Despite all the wonderful things Tiger & Wolf has going for it, it also has some issues. The first is that something like 70% of the book revolves around Maniye just running from something. There are, so many, chase scenes in this book. They are super cool the first five times, but by chase 17 they were starting to wear a little thin. On top of being repetitive, the pacing also suffered due to the bloated chase sequences. The plot is also not particularly strong. It’s certainly not bad, but I didn’t find myself often wondering what would happen next. Maniye’s path forward was always fairly easy to see, and it was who she met on the way that made me want to keep picking up the book, not wondering what was going to happen to her. The book also felt a little overly focused on Maniye when there was such a strong set of support characters to give more spotlight.

The Tiger and the Wolf is only the first book in a larger series, one that I definitely plan on continuing. The world is very fun to explore and continues to showcase Tchaikovsky’s impressive imagination and skill at writing fight scenes. However, I hope that the future books will have slightly better pacing and at least a small reduction in chase scenes. Regardless, The Quill to Live definitely recommends The Tiger and the Wolf.

Rating: The Tiger and the Wolf – 7.5/10
-Andrew

Redemption’s Blade And Children Of Time – An Interview With Adrian Tchaikovsky

We have been all about Adrian Tchaikovsky recently. If you missed our recent reviews of Redemption’s Blade, which can be be found here, or Children of Time, which can be found here, you should check them out. Both of these books are worth your time and Adrian has about 20 others you can check out. We wanted to find out more about Adrian to better understand how he makes such great stuff, and managed to get a hold of him to ask some questions. For your reading pleasure we have written them up and added them below, enjoy:

Questions: General

You are a really prolific author with multiple series in both the sci-fi and fantasy genres. Do you have a preference for a genre and do you think there are any major differences in writing for one vs. the other? If so, what are those differences?

Fantasy and SF are very different writing experiences for me. With SF I generally want to make the science as sound as possible, and so it’s often a slower process involving lots of research and consultation with people better informed than I am. With fantasy, as the pressure is for internal consistency rather than external, the writing process can be a lot freer.

In addition, do you have a favorite series among the many that you have written?

I think the Shadows of the Apt world is still my favourite to dabble in, just because I know it so well.

What are some of your favorite sci-fi and fantasy books? What are you reading right now?

I am just finishing off Jeff Noon’s The Body Library, which is something of a mind-bending read. Before that was the wonderfully poetic and brutal Tower of Living and Dying by Anne Smith-Sparkes. Amongst my other favourites are Mary Gentle’s Ash and Gene Wolfe’s Soldier of Arete.

What is one fact about yourself that your readers would be surprised to know?

I still (as of this moment at least) have a day job, albeit a part time one.

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Redemption’s Blade is a tragic tale about… well… redemption (unsurprisingly). What made you want to tell a story about the after affects of a war? Do you think this kind of story is something that the fantasy genre is missing – or were you feeling particularly passionate about this specific war?

The post-war setup was in the brief I received from Rebellion, so the credit is theirs for that. It’s certainly not the first time the topic has been touched, but stories about martial triumph are commonplace enough that it seems there’s more unexplored space if you pick up a narrative after the dust settles.

I noticed that the sequel to Redemption’s BladeSalvation’s Fire, just came out and was written by Justina Robson. What is going on with the writing? Is it a joint project and will you be writing in this world more? How many novels are planned?

The series is envisaged as multi-author, and Justina had the unenviable task of picking up my toys when I’d finished using them. As for the future, that’s in Rebellion’s hands, but I’d certainly like to see more of the world.

Following up on the last question, the world of Redemption is incredible. The original races, power, and locations that you explored in the book really captured my imagination. Did you have any particular inspiration for the various races (or the torments visited on them, which were equally creative in a different sadder way)? Was the world build collectively with other authors?

I got a very loose brief, and then a very free hand, and in fact the sheer untrammelled creation I got to put into the project made writing it an absolute joy. I wanted to set up a complex world with a lot of areas left to be explored, a lot of hints and hooks for writers who might come after me. In that, it was a lot like setting up a campaign for a role-playing game – you need room to expand into.

There was a lot to like in Redemption’s Blade, but I particularly loved the ideas of the guardians – demigods sent to watch over life in the world. In many ways, the novel feels like it really revolves around them and their choices. What was your inspiration for these divine characters?

They were part of the brief, so again a tip of the hat to Rebellion. My own touch came mostly in the way that the guardians had already become mostly surplus to requirements before the war broke out – living alongside mortals meant that they were learning as much as they taught, including self interest.

I also really enjoyed the magical artifacts that litter the world in Redemption’s Blade. Were there any artifacts (or species of people) that you came up with that didn’t quite make it into the book?

Because of the nature of the project I got to shoehorn in a lot of things that I didn’t need to explore, just to flesh out the world. There were a few things I’d like to have played more with, though – there’s a bronze army mentioned early on, that apparently wasn’t much use against the Kinslayer and his legions, and one wonders what might be left over of *that* and precisely what it thinks about things.

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What was your favorite thing to write in Children of Time? Was there a particular evolution you liked most?

I think the big war between the spiders and the ants was fun, and also the stealing of the sacred eye of the ant god, because it let me do something I love to read – writing hard SF in the style of epic fantasy (like Gene Wolfe does so well, or M John Harrison). Also, it’s nice to write a genuine heroic narrative where the protagonist is a spider.

How did you land on spiders as the species the humans would face?

It happened the other way round. I came across Portia labiata in my researches and knew that I needed to find a way of writing a book about them. The humans came later.

Children of Time has a lot of tangible themes that rarely get the treatment you gave them (such as evolution and the passage of time). What inspired you to write the book in the way that you did?

The focus of the book was always the evolutionary process, so the narrative would always be a longitudinal one. I wanted to show just how the society might change and adapt  through the generations.

I was very impressed with your ability to control tone through the book, going from wonder to anxiety to horror fairly quickly without dissonance. How did you manage the tone in your head, while also making sure it translated to the page?

I think Children of Time is now pretty much the benchmark for my style now – Serious Narrative with a bit of nastiness sugar coated with a big of humour. I have never been a strictly technical writer, and the writing comes out as it comes out – the evolution of my style is an entirely subconscious process.

I just recently found out that there will be a sequel, Children of Ruin. While I felt CoT worked amazingly as a standalone, I’m incredibly excited about the sequel. What to you felt unfinished about Children of Time that led to Children of Ruin?

Well there’s that last sequence, the epilogue, where they’re setting off on a voyage of discovery. Children of Ruin is the story of What They Find There, and as the title suggests it’s not necessarily pretty.

How much research went into creating the insect led ecosystem upon the planet?  

Well, to a certain extent it’s an extrapolation of Earth ecosystems, so there was a lot less work than trying to create a genuine alien world from first principles. The major work was the logistics of increasing arthropod size, and in how spider senses might work, in which I was ably assisted by the entomology department at the Natural History Museum.

-Thank you for your time Adrian, and everyone should check out one of his various books as soon as possible!

Children of Time – The Web Of Life Finds A Way

51wkqa3knrlI have a confession to make. Sometimes, I can get a little vain about my ability to think about books. I also have a penchant for wanting to discuss themes in books in a way that shows how smart I think I might be. It’s a frustrating vanity I can’t seem to rid myself of. It reared its ugly head in a big way with a beautiful science fiction standalone titled Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky. I bought it on impulse one late night last year as it popped up as a “readers also enjoyed.” All I needed were four words: intelligent spiders in space. How could I resist such a notion, especially with an Arthur C. Clarke award and a glowing quote from Peter F. Hamilton? I read it in July 2017, and I have been struggling to put into words ever since how much I love this book. Every time I sit down to write a review, new revelations dawn on me about the book, and nothing gets written. This is my attempt to lure you into its web.

Children of Time begins far into the future, where humanity has begun to terraform planets and spread throughout the stars. A scientist by name of Avrana Kern has decided that, instead of inhabiting some of these created paradises, we should send apes down onto them with an “uplift virus” that will hyper-evolve generations of mammals towards intelligence in order to eventually have a dialogue with someone in an otherwise empty galaxy. Unsurprisingly, there is a large group of people who do not like this idea, and they attack the space station where the scientists are operating. In the chaos, Kern manages to send the virus, but fails in sending the monkeys. The virus, with nothing better to do, finds its way into something else: spiders (portia labiate). From there the story splits into semi-parallel storylines: one told from the perspective of the evolving spiders, the other told by the descendants of humanity who are recovering from the civil war sparked a thousand years ago by Kern’s vision.

Tchaikovsky’s story straddles centuries. We are introduced to a new generation of spiders every few chapters (with each generation showcasing the evolutions gained from the previous spider protagonists). The humans on the other hand manage to stretch their lives by cleverly spanning large chunks of time using cryogenic freezing chambers. He keeps the reader engaged through tight pacing and complex characters built from recognizable archetypes. Additionally, the incredible detail with which he describes the evolution of the spiders would make National Geographic’s best travel and nature writers jealous. Tchaikovsky misses no small details, providing what feels like a historical highlight reel of the spider’s physical and cultural development as the species and society progress.

That is not to say that the human story is boring, but it was harder to get engaged with their storyline. It follows the perspective of Holsten Mason, a historian of sorts who is tasked with witnessing humanity leaving Earth for the last time and document the life it is going to build for itself. The magic of this side of the story is that the constant time jumps that leave the main character, and the reader, disoriented. Every time Mason wakes up, something new has happened or some bit of information is missing, and the reader finds out what has changed alongside the character. Tchaikovsky keeps all of these perspective shifts and leaps fresh with a few tricks that provide insights into the human condition, without beating the reader over the head with them.

The characters on a whole feel organic and lived in. The humans have a touch of desperation to them that not only expresses their fears of the future, but their apprehension towards each other. They are a broken people, the children of a civil war so toxic it poisoned the Earth itself. On the flip side, the spiders feel curious, ambitious and altogether optimistic. They are a new species carving out a space in existence on a not so perfect planet, but without the baggage of history weighing them down. These and other differences are painstakingly highlighted as the novel goes on, showing different ways problems are solved without pointing out direct differences. Tchaikovsky’s use of science fiction trappings is creative and feels organic. Most of the human technology is traditional sci-fi fare, but it has a flair to it that took me aback several times. The humans’ technology feels rigid, decrepit, and built with a lack of resources. Meanwhile, the spiders are clever and flexible in their use of biological technologies. They have access to so much, and they use everything to their fullest ability. Tchaikovsky goes through great lengths to show how both species interact with their environment through use of their resources. Each species feels different and unique, making technology a theme instead of a setting. Humanity feels isolated, paranoid, and defensive, while the spiders are inclusive, challenging, and integrate themselves into the world.

I could go on about this book, peeling back its many layers, and pointing out all the clever devices that Tchaikovsky left as surprises for the readers. I could gush even more about his commentary on power in relation to information, squeal about how the main characters and their roles in society reflect the values those societies hold dear. I could blather on about how the ending is a glorious refutation of stories we as civilized, economically focused, western Europeans have told ourselves about ourselves. I could highlight that accepting and promoting the education, validity, and intelligence of a society’s oppressed groups can bring about greater freedom for everyone is a theme that both the spiders and humans share. Instead, I will say Children of Time is easily one of my favorite books of this year, if not one of my favorite books ever. It is not perfect, even though all I want to do is talk about it. The initial human chapters did nothing for me and felt standard and unexciting until I started looking backwards. It requires a lot of buy in from the reader to feel the nuances and the gears turning while reading. However, every moment of build up is worth it as the payoff is one of the coolest takes on evolution and alien competition I have ever read. The Quill to Live enthusiastically recommends you check out Children of Time, by Adrian Tchaikovsky.

Rating: Children of Time – 10/10
-Alex

Redemption’s Blade – Stuffed To Bursting With Imagination

redemptions-blade-9781781085790_hrOne of the best books I have read this year was Children of Time, by Adrian Tchaikovsky. It was an incredible take on the ideas of evolution and what makes someone human along with a interesting narrative style. I thought Children of Time was so good that it made me want to dive in to Adrian’s vast catalogue of books and read more. Solaris/Rebellion was kind enough to facilitate this desire and sent me an ARC of his newest book, Redemption’s Blade, in exchange for a honest review.

Redemption’s Blade has a plot that should appeal to most fantasy readers. The story takes place in the immediate wake of a gigantic war that touched almost the entire world. A demigod, named the Kinslayer, decided that he was no longer keen on his God given mission to protect the mortals of the world. Instead, he thought it would be a lot more fun to consume his brethren (which earned him his name), cast down the gods, and enslave all mortals. His war for domination was cut short when he was sliced in half by a group of heroes and some of his minions that turned traitor. One of these heroes was Celestaine, who goes by Celest, who is finding herself a bit lost in a world that regards her as one of its saviors. In order to find some meaning in her post-hero life she sets out on a journey with a group of the Kinslayer’s ex-minions to try and right some of the wrongs that the demigod committed in his war.

Redemption simultaneously evokes classical quest fantasies like Lord of the Rings, while also being a non-stop avalanche of original ideas and worldbuilding. We follow Celest as she travels across the world looking for an artifact of incredible power to heal the people the Kinslayer mutilated. On this journey she recruits a number of interesting characters to her cause and takes you on a tour of a number of horrors that the Kinslayer created. The plot is enjoyable, but slightly predictable (which was fine). Where the book really shined was its world, as Tchaikovsky really knows how to build atmosphere and story set pieces. I was filled with childlike wonder as I read about strange creatures, cool swords, weird races, and despicable crimes. So while the plot of the book can sometimes feel a little shallow, Celest’s journey is simply a lot of fun and honestly that is the most important quality for a book to have.

If I had to pick a flaw to talk about, it would be Celest herself. The characters of the story are, on a whole, fantastic. The party members, side characters, and antagonists all succeeded in getting me emotionally invested and caring about them as people. However, Celest felt like she struggled as the central POV as her character began to feel a little one note as the book ran on. Her inner monologues get a little bit repetitive, and she tended to harp on the same ideas (such as “are these ex-evil minions my friends or tools that I am using?”) a little too often. This is a shame because her various party members were a buffet of deep personalities.

Overall, I enjoyed Redemption’s Blade a lot. It is a very fun book with a lot of astoundingly cool ideas that I think almost any fan of the fantasy genre would enjoy. It loses a little bit of steam towards the end, and Celest could use an injection of personality, but I would still recommend it to anyone who asks. In the meantime, my second foray into Tchaikovsky’s work has only cemented my belief that he is an unique and imaginative author that I need to read more from, and I can’t wait to get my hands on his next book.

Rating: Redemption’s Blade – 8.0/10
-Andrew