Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Lords of Uncreation is the third and final volume of the Final Architecture series, including Shards of Earth and Eyes of the Void. What draws me most to this series are the amazing descriptions of the encounters of the Intermediary Idris Telemmier with the creatures of unspace, a level of space beneath the real where its visitors aren’t even real anymore. Lords of Uncreation is the triumph of the series, when so many details snap into focus, and I get awed all over again at the scope and depth of Tchaikovsky’s imagination.
To summarize briefly, the crystalline, moon-sized Architects, that once destroyed Earth by twisting it into strangely artistic shapes, wiping out all living things that had not escaped into space, returned after decades of absence in Shards of Earth. Humanity and other more advanced species have found only one tool of resistance in the surgically or genetically modified minds of humans known as Intermediaries, or Ints. They, especially the most gifted one of them, Idris Telemmier, have been able to contact the minds of the Architects to deflect them from their murderous purpose or at least delay them to give residents of planets more time to escape.
The scientists and politicians controlling the Ints hope to destroy the Architects where they live in the mysterious world of unspace. But Idris has sensed another entity in unspace that conceals further secrets, and he suspects the Architects are only tools of that force. He has come to believe that killing the Architects would be a useless genocide. He wants to track down the true source of the assault on sentient life, but no one agrees with him. As all this is going on, factions among humans and other species, who have temporarily made peace to fight a greater enemy, may be preparing to resume hostilities.
The salvage spaceship Vulture God and its motley crew have played a critical role in each part of the story. First, they found a twisted fragment of a ship that indicated the Architects were returning after a long absence. Then they helped Idris flee from one human faction to the Parthenon, a parthenogenetically created corps of women fighters, in order to train more Ints. Now with a diminished crew serving the whims of an alien gangster they manage to take up a central role in Idris’ final effort to stop the destruction of sentient life on settled planets. The crew, at this point, consists of one of the most interesting point of view characters, the irreverent Olli, a human born without many limbs who gets around with the aid of a complex walker; Junior, an Ogdru or enormous fish-like entity living in a tank of water who has uncanny navigational abilities; and Kittering or Kit, a Hannilambra or crab-like creature handling trade for salvage items.
Lords of Uncreation opens from the viewpoint of Andecka, an Intermediary whose brain has been carved up to make her sensitive to the mind of an Architect. She and her fellow Intermediary, Grave, are confronting one of the world-sized giants and trying to make contact with its mind to get it to relent in its attack of the planet they are defending, Assur. So we immediately get a deep sense of the scale of the conflict, the vastness of the Architects and the uselessness of conventional defenses of the sentient beings opposing them. The planets under attack – and that is potentially every world of sentient beings – fall back on launching people into permanent life in space as a way of hopefully escaping further notice of the Architects. But there is always the terrible cost, the loss of billions of lives of those who could not be loaded onto ships quickly enough and, of course, all the complexity of life on the planet about to be destroyed.
The scene shifts to the perspective of Kris, lawyer and knife-fighter, once a crew member of the Vulture God, who is traveling to Estoc. There a piece of tech left by the Originators (an extinct species of great technological advancement) is being adapted to the defense against the Architects. It is a huge slab of stone, now called the Eye, with mysterious markings that has been turned into the headquarters of a group of scientists and Intermediaries trying to locate the Architects in unspace so that they can be destroyed. The Eye is surrounded by fragments of a vast spaceship which turns out to be its own unique design created by some unknown species. When powered up, all the fragments form a single hull, though separated by great spaces, and, with the Eye at its center, a hopefully impregnable fortress against the Architects who had, thus far, avoided injuring any surviving Originator artifacts.
It is here in the Eye that the Ints – among them, Idris – have been hooked up to machinery that carefully records physical life signs as they delve into unspace. Idris is supposed to be guiding the rest of the Ints and feeding data to the scientists. Mostly, he is off on his own, trying to find where the Architects live in unspace so that he can begin to understand the power that directs them to kill.
Lords of Uncreation achieves a remarkable turnabout of perspective in which we see Idris looking at the universe from the other side of the real. There he sees everything and achieves a sort of omniscience, not because he becomes a superman but simply because he can imagine himself standing at a point in the center of all things. In a sense, that corresponds to the writer’s imagination, for, after all, what is Tchaikovsky doing but exactly what Idris describes – arranging the unknowable in familiar terms, fitting it out with direction and a landscape that we can imagine ourselves within.
We follow Idris as he moves step by step more deeply into unspace and sees and understands more and more of its structure. It is this steady advance that convinces him the Architects are only the tools or slaves of another more powerful force that has bent them to its will and that wants to destroy all traces of sentient life from the universe. But why? What is it that sentient beings are doing that arouses the wrath of that deeper force? These are the questions Tchaikovsky and his characters grapple with and slowly discover in this final and immensely satisfying conclusion to his trilogy.
To Idris, his continuing probe into unspace is the most important thing, and he resents being dragged out of his immersion “to deal with that tedious round of politics and violence.” (Kindle edition, Location 5163) He seems not to care that his very life depends on his being dragged out and revived to keep him, or at least his mind, from being lost forever to those who know him in the real world.
That “tedious round of politics and violence” occupies much of the novel and reveals how crazily committed to power through war the rest of the world seems to be. Even when facing imminent destruction at the hands of the Architects, a couple of factions of humans decide it is time to strike their enemies, even though they need all the firepower and transport spaceships they can get to save as much of humanity and other species as possible. So they fight their battles, and these are captured quite well in fast-paced action sequences. For Idris, barely aware of anything going on in the real world, that’s all a distraction. But this intricate set of enmities, wild characters and their ongoing battles threaten to weaken humanity at its most vulnerable time.
Idris argues against the extermination of the Architects and senses in their strangely artistic way of reworking the planets they destroy “the expression of their grief at being made to do the will of monsters.” (Kindle edition, Location 7866) That is one of many human touches that Tchaikovsky adds at key moments as a sharp contrast to the values guiding much of the universe that is trying to use Idris as a weapon of war. He can actually empathize with the great engines of destruction that everyone else simply want to destroy. There is another beautiful moment when Idris, in order to keep from being lost in unspace, has to hold the hand of one of his few friends, Solace. It is this human contact that enables him to function despite his total immersion in his mental wanderings. He needs the touch of his friend’s hand to anchor his being.
Lords of Uncreation portrays humanity in the fullness of its folly and its warmth, giving a larger meaning to the single-minded drive of Idris into the unknown. We follow this complex story through multiple points of view, and Tchaikovsky manages to humanize and keep us interested in even the worst characters who want to fight off most of humanity to keep alive their narrow circle of committed fascists and brutal warlords. The division of the narrative into so many strands does make it hard to focus at times, and I found myself skimming some of the political machinations in order to follow closely every part of Idris’ investigation of unspace. Yet the deeper meaning and value of his search for answers only becomes clear in relation to the war-torn universe he is trying to save. Tchaikovsky has created a remarkable trilogy that repays close reading and captures the fullness of the worlds we live in and the choices we are forced to make.
My thanks to Orbit and Netgalley for an advance review copy of Lords of Uncreation on which to base this review, consisting solely of my own opinions.