Firewalkers – by Adrian Tchaikovsky (Review)

Novella

Scifi, Post-Apoc

Solaris; May 12, 2020

208 pages (ebook)

3.8 / 5 ✪

GoodreadsAuthor Website

I was kindly provided an advance-copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to Solaris Books and Rebellion for the ARC! All opinions are my own.

The second Tchaikovsky novella in two years, Firewalkers features a cast entirely too young to drink, but old enough to wander the post-apocalyptic wastes of the world, fighting and dying for nothing more exotic to us than A/C. Hitting the shelves next week, most of us will be forced to get it via ebook, though it proves entertaining in any format. Just make sure you appreciate the cover—courtesy of Gemma Sheldrake—which is quite eye-catching, don’t you think?

The city of Ankara Achouka isn’t perfect. There’s never enough food, medicine, or water. There are rolling blackouts, if you can find electricity at all. Jobs are scarce, money is even scarcer. But here, at the base of the Anchor, those things are at least present. The rest of the planet is burning. Deserts and wastelands cover the world, the only refuge from the dying world being aboard the Grand Celeste—the only space station in orbit above the Earth. A space station connected via space elevator at Ankara.

At the base of the elevator sits the Anchor—the only area of government control left in Ankara, perhaps even the world—and within its domain the so-called “Roach Hotel”, a resort that caters to the super-rich and elite, so named for the fact that they check in, but never check out. This is where those powerful or connected enough spend their last days on planet, before ascending the elevator to orbit and the Grand Celeste. The hotel has food, water, and amenities. Amenities including A/C, since just because the planet is burning, god forbid the 1%-ers get a little uncomfortable.

But when the power goes on the fritz, someone has to go check and repair the solar panels—located far the south amidst the desolate wastes. Enter the Firewalkers. They leave the city to scavenge, scout, and yes, fix the power. Firewalkers are all young and desperate. Or the insane. They have a short life-expectancy, on account of the raiders, the predators, the heat, the desolation, the unknown beyond the bounds of Ankara Achouka. Only those with no future and no better option would consider the life of a Firewalker.

Mao is one such man. A legend at only nineteen—a middling age for one of his profession—he once walked back to Ankara through the wastes after an accident that killed his entire crew. Joining him are Lupé and Hotep, two of the best in their respective fields. Their mission: to restore the power to the Roach Hotel, before some of the elite lose their cool. Their lives have already been filled with disaster, but this trip into the wastes may well be their last.

If Adrian Tchaikovsky is the master of anything, it’s science fiction. Specifically science fiction with the most distasteful of organisms. His Shadows of the Apt series features a whole host of insects, while the Echoes of the Fall deals with predators. Children of Time plays host to spiders, and several novellas feature several other creepy crawlies. This one is no different, as, in Firewalkers, he returns to bugs.

I can’t get much into it without giving everything away, but if you have a problem with or a phobia of insects… maybe skip this one? Otherwise it’s a highly entertaining post-apocalyptic read. The characters are lovely, each with their own personalities and loyalties that evolved to impressive levels, particularly with this only being a novella (albeit a long one). All are well-written, as each portrays both strengths and weaknesses, making them seems very, very human.

The setting itself is quite interesting—something of a cross between the world of Metro and the Darwin Elevator, with Tchaikovsky’s particular brand of chaos thrown right in. Though I’d really’ve liked to know more about the state of the world. There’re hints of additional space elevators, the status of which is unknown. The setting itself is a bit of a mystery; I was guessing Africa somewhere, though the most famous Ankara is in Turkey. Other than these few hints, the world itself is hidden in the fog. Or, it’s burned up. There’s very little given. It’s more the kind of story that’s “here’s the world, this is how it is—it’s not about what happened, it’s about the future”. I have a mind curious for details; I always wonder after what’s happened before.

While the story itself is pretty good, it isn’t the best thing I’ve ever read by Tchaikovsky. Firewalkers takes a decent amount of time to get moving, and there’re distractions along the way. It’s a solid 4-star tale, though there was a bit of a letdown at the end. Nothing big—the story was completed and all threads tied up nicely—it was just a bit underwhelming. While once I got into the meat of it I had no problem reading to the end, it took some time to get to the meat, as it were.

TL;DR

With a landscape like that of Hades and a plot out of Metro, Firewalkers tells a post-apocalyptic tale not quite like any other. Together with Tchaikovsky’s particular brand of chaos, it makes for an entertaining read—with excellent characters, a provocative setting, and good writing throughout. However, the story takes a bit to get off the ground, and wanders a bit more upon doing so. Additionally, the world-building itself seems incomplete, with little more told than those aspects directly relevant to the matter at hand. All in all, Firewalkers is definitely worth a look, especially if you’re a fan of the author, or short on reading material.

Book Review: Walking to Aldebaran – by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Standalone

Scifi

Solaris; May 28, 2019

Novella; 105 pages

5 / 5 ✪

I received a free copy in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

So many of my favorite quotes in this novella happen towards the end, and I’m unwilling to use them. That would give too much away, I think. But then, there are SO MANY good quotes everywhere! And Walking to Aldebaran was a good therapeutic read. Maybe this will get me to start talking to myself as I wander around life, too, though I won’t call it Toto. Never liked the Wizard of Oz—I know, that’s just horrible. Don’t judge me too much, please.

“If they didn’t want to be eaten, they shouldn’t be so delicious.”

Walking to Aldebaran is a hundred page novella from the master of, well, so many things: Adrian Tchaikovsky. This is only my third Tchaikovsky book—after The Tiger and the Wolf and Children of Time. Walking to Aldebaran reminds me quite a bit of Children, actually. Not so much the plot, as how it’s written. But that would make sense, wouldn’t it?

As for the plot, Tchaikovsky combines the erudite pilot Gary Rendell with some smart-ass in order to win my heart. Or, at least, I assume. Dude is quite possibly my favorite character of the year. Rendell is an astronaut tasked—along with his fellow crewmates—with exploring an alien artefact that hovers just at the edge of our solar system, known by him as ‘the Frog God’, due to it’s froggy visage. But, shortly after entering these Crypts (yeah, they’re the Crypts once he’s inside), a horrible fate befalls him and his crew, stranding Gary all alone in the darkness, forcing him to either curl up and die or traverse the Crypts afoot until he finds his way home. The narrative in Walking to Aldebaran picks up shortly after this (and after Gary begins talking to himself), but features frequent flashbacks that provide the reader with insight about how he got into this mess. And as the Crypts seem to bend time and space so that they can exit/enter into countless alien realms—he’ll be walking for a while. Hence the name.

Seeing as it only took me a handful of hours to finish it (albeit space across a few days), it proved less a journey and more a… jaunt. But still, with an adventurous and exciting novella like this, the length really doesn’t matter. I mean, I would’ve loved for it to have been longer… but it really didn’t need to be. Tchaikovsky knows what he’s doing, and Walking is fitted to match.

I seriously enjoyed this one. Loved it, actually. The narrator, the concept, the setting. The character arc. The quote-unquote “growth”. The cover was really nice, too. A solid 5-stars, I’d say. The real question is whether I’d justify the $10 ebook price, though. Now, normally there’d be no way I’d even consider it. $10 for a 100 page book, a couple hours read? Nah. But Aldebaran is really, really good. So… I’m torn. I guess, like, may…be? I’d definitely justify reading it, no matter how you get there.