Adrian Tchaikovsky, Eyes of the Void (2022)

Author: Adrian Tchaikovsky

Title: Eyes of the Void

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 608

Series: The Final Architecture #2

Welp. I have a lot of sentiment for Tchaikovsky, mostly for his truly outstanding (if a bit too goody even for our resident Polyanna) fantasy series, Shadows of the Apt. I respect his writing skill and his imagination, I admit our views on many things are generally aligned, and I suspect he’s a really nice guy to boot. But for all that, I find it increasingly difficult to find a book of his that really awes me, makes me think, or at least fully entertains. I had some hopes for his new SF series, of which Eyes of the Void is the second installment. The first book, Shards of Earth, was quite interesting – maybe not very original, but pretty enjoyable. Alas, I’m sad to say that with Eyes of the Void it’s just more of the same, only without any length limitations, to the further detriment of the whole endeavor.

I’d dearly wish to say it’s the case of “it’s me, not you,” but I can’t. Tchaikovsky’s SF concepts are unoriginal, and for me SF should be, first and foremost, about originality: about creating visions of the future that aren’t simple extrapolations or copies of the past. Admittedly, this bar is set pretty high; not many books pass it, and even fewer can also boast of being entertaining and well-written at the same time. Eyes of the Void is not only mostly unoriginal in terms of the future humanity’s fate, but also somewhat uneven in its views on humanity’s propensities: a generic D&D optimism that rules Tchaikovsky’s worldbuilding in the aspects of coexistence of various sentient species is juxtaposed with his views on humanity itself. The contrast is jarring enough to break the suspension of disbelief; we’re all great pals with clam aliens and crab aliens and insect aliens and even AI aliens, but wage war with ourselves because the worst enemies of man are, obviously, other men. Or women. Well, if history and biology teach us anything, it’s that humans are extremely tribal. It took thousands of years for such a concept as universal human rights to emerge, and even now, in the 21st century, it is not universally accepted or adhered to. We’ve had here a discussion on the sentience of other species and why we are so loath to grant them this recognition. Look what’s going on with the AI discourse – even though we’re still really far from experiencing even a remotely sentient or intelligent being.

So, sorry, but it seems quite probable to me that the first thing humanity would do when faced with intelligent aliens would be to hastily raise the walls between ‘us’ and ‘them’ and treat anyone noticeably different with a large dose of suspicion, not to say paranoia. But here, the worst villain is a huffy medieval Russian noble, spoiled rotten by his rich and powerful family and too stupid to even scheme properly. Man, it just seems lazy. And it’s also a disfavor to the book and its readers. I actively dislike such heavy-handedness, because it raises suspicions that the entire creative process of building new worlds and new futures has been subsumed by the author’s need to push his somewhat more contemporary political views. Let me be clear: I don’t expect the authors not to have political views. On the contrary, every thinking person should have their own perspective on stuff that surrounds us and impacts us much more than any imaginary world ever could. But when I want to read political analyses, I turn to appropriate venues and specialists. I don’t need that stuff in my SF, particularly when it features so prominently that it overshadows the plot, worldbuilding, and characterization. The funny thing is that I really do get Tchaikovsky’s views. We are on the same part of the political spectrum, our opinions probably much more aligned than, say, mine and Asher’s. And yet, I always read Asher with unbridled pleasure: he doesn’t hide his views, but doesn’t push them either. They just are, the foundation of his imaginary worlds, the basis on which he builds his futures, but never the main star of the show. Tchaikovsky could learn a lot from him, that’s for sure.

Yeah, first part of my rant is out of the way. Let’s get on with the second. It’s the length, guys. As things stand these days, 600 pages is a huge investment on my part. I like to feel that my time is well spent. If I don’t learn anything new, it’s a pity, but it can still be all right – maybe at least I’ll decompress and have a good time. Eyes of the Void didn’t deliver on either account. At least a few dozen pages could’ve been cut out without any adverse effects – on the contrary, the removal of repetition and unending descriptions would do the book good. I swear, I developed an allergy to the word ‘unlovely.’ The ship belonging to the main characters was almost never described in any other way, and ‘unlovely’ popped up so many times it seemed to have become an honorific for Vulture God. I know, it sounds like a funny sort of criticism when a reader complains of too many words; but this is the case here. There are lengthy descriptions of unspace, which, being first described as undescribable, is being described in great detail. There are descriptions of various inexplicable alien and human guild rituals, which clearly should convey a portentious meaning, but mostly just bored me out of my mind. There’s seemingly a lot going on, but it’s going nowhere; only in the last few chapters there’s a discernible direction to the frenetic zigzagging through the galaxy that the main characters are exposed to. I had a general feeling that the characters are passive; things happen to them, but they don’t have much agency – and all right, that’s probably how the world works for most of us, but in this case it didn’t feel relatable or profound, just… indifferent, really. It doesn’t help that the main protagonist is such a wet ball of neuroses, always complaining about being used and not wanting to be a hero. Yeah, we got it the first fifty times. The rest of the characters is not much better, because they seem to serve as poster boys, and girls, and aliens, for the moral superiority that can be clearly juxtaposed with the immorality of our boyarin villains and the shortsighted corruption of other bigwigs in the human society. Well, not Ollie, because Ollie is in a league of herself, the only not one-dimensional character in the entire cast – I guess that’s why even the Hegemonic Lucifer likes her.

Frankly, I’m not sure if I’m going to read the final installment. This one wasn’t objectively bad, but it wasn’t good, either. The main concepts seem tired and overused, and even the intermittent jokes are quite heavy – the mad alien on a suicidal crusade against the denizens of unspace, the planet-sized Architects, is called Ahab. At this point, the only saving grace of the entire series is Aklu, the Razor and the Hook – the one truly ambiguous character whose mystery is intentionally left untouched.

Score: 6/10

18 thoughts on “Adrian Tchaikovsky, Eyes of the Void (2022)

  1. I think I liked this one more than you did, but I agree with your criticisms. This was a lesser book than Shards of Earth. It got long and repetitive. I also fear that Tchaikovsky will never write that masterpiece, at least not for my taste. All his books just feel cranked out at high speed without him taking the time to make something truly great.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yup, agreed. He turned into a factory of books, much like Sanderson whom I can’t stand. I think there is a sort of an intuitive boundary between craft and art in terms of innovation and imagination and creativity and Tchaikovsky is increasingly relocating himself to the craft end of the continuum. Nothing wrong with that, it’s a way to make money, but to me it shows in terms of deteriorating value where quantity trumps quality.

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  2. The political thing is why I gave up reading any more Tchaikovsky. The fun adventure I experienced with Shadows of the Apt seems gone from his writing now and I’m not going to torture myself trying to find it. If he decides to start writing fun SFF again, I’ll be back in heartbeat. But until then, he just be “someone that I used to know”…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ooh I see your new avatar in use! Cool!!
      Yes, I think I’m getting slowly where you are now. Almost no fun left. Maybe we started from the wrong end, with his best books ๐Ÿ˜‰

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks. I wanted to see how it looked in the tiny format before using it full time on reviews. I hope to start fully using it end of the month, beginning of april.

        I consider Shadows his best stuff and everything else has just not been up to the same standard. It is very sad, because I know he can write good stuff.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Looks pretty cool! The book pages brighten it a lot, not sure if this was what you were after, but I like it ๐Ÿ™‚

          Yup, exactly. But on Shadows he spent years on each book, polishing it and making sure it’s really top notch in terms of worldbuilding, plot, and character development. Only the last book was somewhat politicized at the end, but it was mostly noticeable only if you were a history buff enough to see the parallels with WWII and post-war order. These books were really superb, though, and nothing he wrote after came even close to this level of complexity and overall skill, IMO.

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  3. “I find it increasingly difficult to find a book of his that really awes me, makes me think, or at least fully entertains.” THIS! This describes me as well when it comes to his books. My last book by Tchaikovsky was Children of Memory and I think I just keep going back to his work in some vain hope to recapture the wonder I felt from reading Children of Time. So far, hasn’t happened. Felt the same blah with Doors of Eden. Like you said, even if I am not awed, at least I expect to be entertained and I don’t feel that I’m getting even that. His themes have become increasingly pedantic and making his books drag. I do wonder if I would have better luck reading his fantasy though, but I think I’m just about done with his sci-fi.

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    1. Yeah, it’s the quantity over quality problem, I think. With such output I doubt he has time to step back and even think about what he wants to say beyond the obvious politically colored opinions. There is a lack of purpose to it all, a mad dash with a lot of action but no clear destination. I’m with you here, Mogsy, I think I’m done with Tchaikovsky. I might reread his Shadows of the Apt, because that’s truly a unique and original work, but I sure won’t be reading any of his new contracted periodicals dressed as novels.

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  4. All contemporary art is about originality, not only SF! ๐Ÿ˜€

    Great take-down of a book I haven’t read and never will read: Tchaikovsky lost me with Children of Time, a book that was filled with baloney. It’s clear he hasn’t improved since.

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    1. Thanks, Bart! Yup, looks like Tchaikovsky’s best work was his first work – Shadows of the Apt.

      Yeah, agreed – art is or at least should be about originality, though not only about that – that is a big discussion, what art is! ๐Ÿ˜‰ Although I find it rarer and rarer for it to actually be the case. It’s like we’re living in the time of Duchamp’s curse – taking pre-existing stuff and tweaking it a bit and then pretending it’s new and unique. Or sometimes even not tweaking it, just slapping a new name on an old character ;). I wonder what that old goat would say about that state of affairs, his on-the-nose joke with Mona Lisa becoming something of an industry standard, though bereft of the original irony. I wonder, too, how the AIs with their fast and loose approach to author ownership will affect that state of affairs.

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      1. I think AI will affect applied arts, like illustration and advertising. And to ‘real’ art it will just become another tool, but possibly with profound, hard to predict consequences, like photography had, even though I think a jump as big as Duchamp probably isn’t possible anymore. Very interesting times.

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  5. “SF should be, first and foremost, about originality.” I suppose that depends on the potential reader, because for us all an idea is original only when we come across it for the first time.

    But when writers merely retail the same ideas they’ve always done, or that others have previously done, the act swiftly becomes tedious.

    For me it’s the approach that needs to be original more than the concept or theme that lies at the heart; and more especially it’s the humanity that drives me to keep going, in SF as much as in mainstream fiction. Tchaikovsky seems to have fallen short in all areas.

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    1. I admit I could’ve been more precise, Chris ๐Ÿ™‚ Originality for me doesn’t necessarily mean a truly new and unheard-of problem, or technique; it is also (or mostly) contained in those cases where the age-old problems are depicted in a new way; where the old tropes are turned on itself and re-examined, and the originality suffuses the end result, making us think and see the world, or at least a tiny part of it, in new light. So, as you put it, originality lies mostly in the approach – as human woes and dreams hadn’t really changed these past several millennia; only the decorations change in any truly significant way: the rules and the perspectives, societal expectations and the scope of accessible knowledge.

      Yup, my disappointment with this latest offering by Tchaikovsky also stems from the fact that he used to write original, fascinating and deeply empathetic fiction. This is all gone now.

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  6. Wonderful review, and one I read with great relief because I felt sort of guilty for DNF-ing this after having enjoyed Shards of Earth, so I was glad to find many of the reasons I abandoned this second volume in your post. What mainly drove my choice was the sense of confusion that permeated the story, a garbled mess that seemed to lead nowhere, and it seems that this trend went on throughout the whole book. Maybe Tchaikovsky works better in shorter form, or at least that’s where I might keep reading his works…
    Thanks for sharing! ๐Ÿ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Maddalena!

      I can’t blame you for DNFing this. It’s just such a letdown; a mediocre book in all aspects. I fully agree that this felt rushed and directionless, things happening seemingly just for the sake of fulfilling an agreed page limit, a painful self-indulgence of effusiveness that was exacerbated by the constant repetitions of content. I’ve read worse books, that’s for sure, but this isn’t what I’ve come to expect from Tchaikovsky. What he writes now is just your run-of-the-mill, thoroughly average airport book – and these I avoid like the plague.

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