From super-soldiers to sentient spiders, David Barnett gives us a guide to the world(s) of Adrian Tchaikovsky's books, one of the UK's foremost science fiction and fantasy authors.
Adrian Tchaikovsky is, if you’ll excuse the painfully obvious pun, a maestro of science fiction and fantasy.
His work is on an epic scale, crossing galaxies and tackling the big themes – aliens, artificial intelligence, the relationship between magic and technology, the divide between gods and mortals. Oh, and fair warning: spiders. Lots of spiders. Adrian Tchaikovsky loves spiders almost as much as you hate them.
Tchaikovsky, born in Lincolnshire in 1972, had a varied career before he became a full-time writer in 2018. Studying zoology and psychology at Reading, he then worked for a solicitor’s in Leeds, West Yorkshire, where he now lives and cuts a tall, imposing figure.
Mephistophelian beard notwithstanding, he’s also a thoroughly nice chap if you run into him at a con or event, if somewhat a little over-fond of creepy-crawly sort of things.
Take Tchaikovsky’s series Shadows of the Apt, which began with his debut novel Empire of Black and Gold, published in 2008. This kicked off what would be a ten-book series and introduced his highly original universe, populated by different humanoid races with the characteristics of insects.
The idea first came to him when he was at university and running a role-playing game called Bugworld – its basic scenario of an insectoid race under attack from a wasp empire formed the basis of his fictional world, populated by the technological Apt and the magic-using Inapt.
That’s a very simplistic precis of Tchaikovsky’s thoughtful, nuanced backdrop to stories that are both high-concept and character-driven.
While the Shadows of the Apt series successfully combined science and magic, for his next series, which began with 2015’s Children of Time, Tchaikovsky concentrates more on science fiction tropes that are at once familiar and yet wholly his own.
Children of Time, and its 2019 sequel Children of Ruin, look at the concept of terraforming distant alien planets. In the first book, a human mission plans to introduce ape species to a new world and infect them with a virus designed to speed up evolution and elevate their intelligence within hundreds of years. However, things do not go quite according to the script, resulting in a race of sentient spiders who share the planet with the human colonists.
Tchaikovsky has scooped a clutch of awards for his work, including the Arthur C Clarke Award for Children of Time and the BSFA Best Novel gong for its sequel. While that output over 13 years would be respectable for any author, it only scratches the surface of Tchaikovsky’s bibliography, which also includes the standalone novels Doors of Eden (2020), about parallel worlds, Cage of Souls (2019), a dying Earth novel, the 2016 fantasy Spiderlight (there he goes again…) and the iron age fantasy trilogy Echoes of the Fall.
Tchaikovsky has now kicked off yet another new series, The Final Architecture, which begins with Shards of Earth. When Earth is all but destroyed by an alien race, mankind fights back by endowing a human strike force with enhanced abilities. The alien invaders abruptly disappear, and these super-soldiers such as the main character Idris are surplus to requirements in a universe populated by the shattered dregs of humanity. But have the aliens really gone for good?
Adrian Tchaikovsky is one of Britain’s leading science fiction and fantasy authors, and Shards of Earth is a perfect jumping in point if you’ve yet to discover this brightest of literary stars. And there’s so much more to explore from his back catalogue when you’ve finished. You never know, you might even learn to love spiders as much as he does…
For those looking to explore the vast worlds of Adrian's creation, read our guide to his books and series in order, below.
The Children of Time Novels in order
The Final Architecture series books in order
Standalone science fiction novels
Shadows of the Apt series books in order
Echoes of the Fall series books in order
Standalone fantasy books
1. These 4 Authors CHANGED MY LIFE
(Words in Time)
2. April TBR 2023
(Gem of Books)
3. Science Fiction & Fantasy | New Favourite? DNFs? #booktubesff
(TheShadesofOrange - Booktube)
4. Sci-Fi Author Chat: J. Dianne Dotson Interviews Adrian Tchaikovsky
(J. Dianne Dotson)
5. DOGS OF WAR - Adrian Tchaikovsky - BOOK REVIEW
(Media Death Cult)
6. Adrian Tchaikovsky Interview - The Writing Process