Book Review: Elder Race

Science Fiction and Fantasy are two distinct things, and also two sides of the same coin. 

Both genres tend to have settings in imagined places. Science Fiction stories are set in a far advanced time when technology can do remarkable things. Fantasies are set in a romanticized era with elements from history, often with battles between good and evil that are fought with shield and sword. 

These imagined worlds of sci fi and fantasy include such different realities as Middle Earth with its elves and ents, and its humans and hobbits; and the Vulcan home world with its star traveling warp drive, and a culture based on logic and reason at odds with their warlike cousins from the planet Romulus. 

The best of both science fiction and fantasy use their imagined settings to tell stories that examine the human condition, and give us insights about ourselves.

What is so much fun about Adrian Tchaikovsky’s new novella Elder Race is that it is both science fiction and fantasy.  

Lynesse is the youngest daughter of the ruler of her land. She inhabits a world that seems medieval, where queens rule the lands and swordsmen battling evil are mythological heroes. Nyr is an anthropologist sent from Earth to study the culture of a colony planet long separated from Earth and its history. One day Lynesse comes to Nyr’s door asking for his help to fight a “demon” loose on the land. She reminds Nyr very much of her ancestor Astresse, who apparently he loved. And so, both set out on a quest together to find and vanquish the demon.

Lynesse and her people, the colonists on this planet, have long forgotten their generation ship and the technology that brought them here. Pieces of that technology still exist and occasionally someone finds some of it and figures out how to use it. But to most the technology is magic and those who figure out how to use it are conjurers of that magic.

Nyr has been on this planet for hundreds of years now, most of that time in stasis awaiting the return of fellow scientists. He has just about given up hope of ever communicating with Earth or returning home. As an anthropologist, despite the long passage of time, he still feels bound to meddle as little as possible with the planet’s inhabitants and their culture. He feels conflicted at having helped Astresse in the past and helping Lynesse now. 

As the story unfolds we alternate seeing things from Nyr and Lynesse’s perspectives. It becomes increasingly clear that the differences in their interpretation of events cannot be bridged. Lynesse’s people have regressed so far that they no longer even have words to describe science, and Nyr does not speak their language well anyway, given the amount of time he spends in stasis. He complains that should he try to explain that he is a “scientist” or “scholar” the words would only translate as “wizard” in Lynesse's tongue.

The main plot line is not entirely unique. In the review on Marlene Harris’ Reading Reality she points out the similarity to the Star Trek Next Gen episode “Who Watches the Watchers”. But Tchaikovsky’s book takes its own path. And I really enjoyed walking alongside Nyr, Lynesse and their companions as they took that path. I give Elder Race Five Stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐. If you are looking for a quick, fun sci fi and fantasy read you have to check it out.

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Title: Elder Race
Author: Adrian Tchaikovsky
Publish Date: November 16, 2021
ISBN-13: 9781250768711
List Price: $14.99 (Trade Paperback as of 12/19/2021)