The Final Architecture

Still fighting dental issues, and so still burning through a lot of fiction. The latest is Adrian Tchaikovsky’s The Final Architecture trilogy. This is epic space opera in the spirit of James S.A. Corey’s The Expanse, featuring a ragtag spaceship crew finding themselves embroiled in a war between different species and empires, and an overall struggle for intelligence in the universe to survive.

Centuries in the future, humanity has begun colonizing the stars and encountering alien civilizations. This is enabled by gravity manipulation technology, as well as the discovery of unspace. Unspace works like hyperspace in traditional space opera, but with some zingers.

Most people have to go through unspace unconscious (in “suspension”) to avoid dire psychological effects, such as perception of the Presence, a perceived entity that is hunting them and will kill them if it is ever seen. This perception is so powerful that it often causes people to kill or maim themselves to escape it. However, automated passage through unspace can only happen along certain Throughways, passages left by a long gone civilization known as the Originators. Not all regions are connected by the Throughways, limiting the places that can be reached.

The ascent of human interstellar civilization is cut short by the Architects, moon sized crystal entities, one of which arrives over Earth and destroys it by gravitationally shaping it into an artistic sculpture, killing most of humanity. What follows is a war between the rest of humanity (along with other intelligent species) and the Architects. Although early on the pattern is simply the Architect dropping out of unspace and then taking a few hours to approach a planet, with desperate delaying actions against the Architect by whatever battleships are present, before the Architect sculpts the planet, killing anyone who hadn’t managed to evacuate. No one knows who or what the Architects are or where they come from.

It’s discovered that Architects won’t attack worlds with Originator ruins or relics on them. An attempt is made to transport the relics to other planets, but whatever protective value they seem to possess is lost when they are moved. Only the Essiel, the giant clam-like aliens who rule an empire known at The Hegemony, know how to move the relics while preserving their protective ability. But the Essiel only extend this benefit to planets that swear allegiance to them, an allegiance that seems to require worshipping them as gods.

Eventually a girl is discovered who can telepathically communicate with the Architects, who it turns out are conscious entities. She can distract them, giving humans a fighting chance. She is studied and volunteers are modified to have similar capabilities, although few survive the process. Those who do are known as Intermediaries. With their help, humanity is occasionally able to destroy or drive away individual Architects, although the attacks continue.

Until a few Intermediaries manage to communicate with an Architect in such as manner that it realizes they are fellow conscious entities. After that, the attacks seem to cease. Over the decades, it gradually seems evident that the war is over, leaving a decimated and traumatized humanity to pick up the pieces.

It turns out that Intermediaries also have the ability to navigate unspace consciously, and so can guide ships off the Throughways, making them valuable for exploration and other needs. Only a few from the war survive, so new Intermediaries are made by essentially forcing conscripted felons to undergo the process and holding those who survive to “leash” contracts, essentially enslaving them.

Idris Tellemmier is one of the original war Intermediaries, who has become the navigator for the salvage ship Vulture God. The Vulture God is hired to find and salvage a ship that has disappeared in deep space. However, when the crew find the ship, they discover that it has been architected, sculpted the way Architects historically sculpted planets. It appears the Architects have returned.

Solace is a member of the Parthenon, a warrior society of women clones, who are despised by general human society despite the services the Parthenon provided during the Architect war. During the war, Solace was Idris’ protector and lover. She finds herself assigned to find Idris again, and try to recruit him for the Parthenon’s Intermediary program. Her efforts become complicated by the Vulture God‘s discovery.

Together with an ever growing cast of characters, Idris and Solace find themselves at the center of the new war between intelligent life and the Architects. Without getting into spoilers, I’ll just note that it’s a struggle that eventually reaches cosmological and metaphysical scales.

Obviously there’s a lot in these books which, as usual, I can only scratch the surface of in this post. I’ll just note one other interesting class of characters, the Hivers. Hivers are artificial intelligences composed of a large number of insect like robots. Originally they were designed by humans, but eventually rebelled and set up their own civilization, although they continue to be of service to humans and other species for payment.

Hivers are interesting because each Hiver is a composite entity, a hive of thousands of insect robots. Often these entities, which have distinct personalities, only exist for limited periods of time to perform specific tasks, before “re-aggregating” back into the collective. However, one of the Hiver characters, Trine, has existed for several decades by the events in the story, and is resistant to being re-aggregated. Other Hiver characters are re-aggregated then later re-instantiated, but in a manner where their friends can tell they’ve changed. Many of the Hiver sequences end up being an interesting exploration of self.

So, as always with Tchaikovsky, a lot of interesting ideas. Unlike his Children of Time series, this one maintains the same general cast of characters in all three books, making it, as I noted above, pretty epic in scope.

My only caveat is the one I usually have with Tchaikovsky. He really likes his long descriptions and extensive interior monologue sequences, all of which slow down the story. I enjoy his books enough to put up with it, but it is something I have to endure. Of course, many will see this as a benefit rather than a blemish.

So if epic space opera and exploration of ideas are your thing, and you can cope with some excessive verbosity, then this series is well worth checking out.

30 thoughts on “The Final Architecture

  1. I just slogged through, enjoyably, Game of Thrones (HBO).
    I was sad to see it end. And fittingly so, as the end is damn sad.
    This epic came to mind as, take a vast cast of characters, a bevy of challenging geographical/astronomical landscapes, sex, gluttony, intrigue, betrayal and a dollop of actual emotional attachment and — voila’ you’ve got a human soap opera — set wherever you like.

    Here’s what amazed me, if indeed Martin actually wrote this into the story, there were a few “set ups” whereby the foundation of a situation was set ages earlier, seasons and seasons, books and books earlier, that were finally revealed in “are you kidding me” fashion. “They’ve been that way, holding it in, this-whole-time?”

    “Luke, I am your father” times 10.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. A lot of people were pretty unhappy with the way it ended, but I thought it did okay. Daenerys’ turn in particular upset many. But it was basically set up throughout the series. Because she was cute and usually applied her ruthlessness toward bad people, we thought that was the rule, until we learned it wasn’t.

      My only beef is I would have liked to have seen the White Walkers down in the south before it was over. Resolving it all in the north felt anticlimactic.

      But yeah, a bittersweet ending. I’m not sure a happy-ever-after would have worked for that story anyway, and it had to end some way. Interestingly, even though the show played out according to an outline Martin gave them at the beginning, there’s no guarantee he’s going to end the books in the same way. He’s made it clear there will be differences.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The ending was “just” as you allude to. And I agreed with it.
        WhiteWalkers… I just can’t do zombies without an energy source justification.

        So, your Sci-Fi epic marathon, similar human stores?

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I think the energy for the GoT zombies comes from the White Walkers, and their energy comes from Forest Children magic. The Children apparently didn’t think enough about alignment issues.

          The Final Architecture series isn’t as sprawling as GoT (few things are), but similar to it and The Expanse, it has both the world threat and human conflict. In GoT the world threat is the White Walkers. In The Expanse it’s the protomolecule and aliens beyond the gates, and in Architecture it’s the Architects. All of them add to the story with infighting between human factions. The Protectorate trilogy has that duality too, although it takes time for the world threat aspects to emerge.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. What would we do, in our mundane lives, if not for distractions. And when the vapid streaming services fail to deliver, we feel lost. “What’s there to watch? What’s there is shit.”

            Liked by 1 person

          2. Yeah, when I was a kid we had three channels and there was nothing to watch. Later we had cable and dozens of channels, but still nothing to watch. Even later we had digital cable and hundreds of channels; still nothing. Now we have streaming with large portions of TV archives available and it still doesn’t feel like there’s all that much.

            Of course, it’s all in the expectations. Ten year old me would be in heaven with a Roku…for a few months.

            Our ancestors made do with stories around the camp fire. I wonder if they ever felt like there were never any good stories left to hear.

            Liked by 2 people

          3. Well his first two points – AI doesn’t need to be conscious to be a problem, and it doesn’t need to be mobile – are spot on. I’m not sure many people have made the second assumption, but the first, definitely. “The question of whether a computer can think is no more interesting than the question of whether a submarine can swim.” –Edsger W. Dijkstra (In the context of granting rights to far-future AI, or in the context of “uploading”, I would disagree; but for AI safety, that’s exactly right.)

            Liked by 1 person

          4. I always disliked that quote of Dijkstra because it relies on a quirk of the English language, as can be easily seen by substituting “plane” and “fly” respectively for “submarine” and “swim” . It’s just a language-specific intuition pump.


          5. It does rely on an ambiguity (which is a bit quirky), but that’s a good thing in this context. “Conscious” and “sentient” and other words that come up in AI debates have some ambiguity, I would contend. At the very least, they have difficult cases, and these can distract from the safety issues.


          6. Whereas I suggest it is question begging. The only reason to use submarine/swim as opposed to plane/fly is to state an otherwise unmotivated conviction that the former is more appropriate. So it is just a fancy expression of one’s intuition that whatever computers may do, can never amount to thinking. Given our state of ignorance on this whole subject, that strikes me premature.


          7. Not at all! Instead of begging the question, the quotation is bypassing it – avoiding the unnecessary work of answering a deep but irrelevant philosophical question.


          8. Which is exactly why I see it as question begging. Whether human thought processes amount to a form of computation or whether something more must be involved is not an issue to be dismissed so glibly. The submarine/swim choice only makes sense if one a priori denies the computational model.


          9. Not even close. Submarine/swim makes perfect sense if one hasn’t yet decided on the computational model. The philosophical question is irrelevant if all you care about is whether the submarine (or AI) can sink your battleship (or civilization).


          10. Plane/fly = true
            Submarine/breathes water = false
            Submarine/swim = ? (seems to invite verbal dispute over what “swim” means)
            If you haven’t made up your mind about what is required for consciousness, the question mark looks like a good analogy. Not that I think all philosophical disputes are merely verbal disputes. But when your concerns are practical, not philosophical, it’s a dispute worth avoiding.


          11. I suggest typing “do submarines swim” into Google. Now, there may be some places where it is otherwise, but in general English usage, to say that a submarine swims is to commit a category error. Remembering AI debates at the time, that’s exactly what Djikstra’s witticism was taken to mean. Not a profession of ignorance but an expression of ridicule.


          12. I dunno, I think it depends on who gets to define the “category”. If the US Navy comes out with a sub in 2024 that swishes its rear half back and forth to propel itself, I would be surprised if reporters didn’t declare it a swimmer.


          13. And if cars had legs, they could gallop, sure. 🙂 In any case, let’s not forget the “no more interesting” part of that quote. To ask whether computer could think is tantamount to asking whether human thought is reducible to computation. This is only “of no more interest” if one assumes the answer to be no — that thought as computation is a category error just as (non-fictional) submarines swimming.


          14. That’s not how I see Dijkstra’s quote – it seems more about not wanting to get dragged into philosophical arguments. And that he’d be more inclined to say that talk of “thinking machines” was undefined or meaningless, rather than being false. But maybe a fuller context would show different.

            Swimming drones:


  2. Adding this to my list. This sounds really cool, even after your warning about all the inner monologuing (which usually turns me off). As an artist myself, I wonder if I might end up rooting for the Architects. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think you’ll enjoy it. It’s worth putting up with the monologuing. That said, I’m reading some John Scalzi which is providing a nice break from all the description and navel gazing.

      On the Architects, there are plot twists, which is all I’m going to say. 😎

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Well, me, I actually like my meaty SF written in a more literary style! 🙂

    Speaking of which have you read China Mieville’s “Embassy Town”? Also “literary”, but I think you may enjoy it, given your philosophical interests. It’s major plot-line is to do with the nature of language and the old problem that exercised Ancient Greeks: how is it possible to speak (or thin) a falsehood. I didn’t like his much acclaimed Perdido Station books, but Embassy Town I found riveting — got pointed at it by a rave review from Ursula le Guinn.

    (Mieville’s other stunning (IMHO) opus is “The City & the City”, but perhaps you need a European background to really appreciate it. I know that a lot of Brits simply don’t get it. The book pretends to be a police procedural, but that’s not at all what it is really about. Nor is it SF in any traditional meaning of the term. Totally sui generis.)

    Back to Tchaikovsky… Unless you have done so already, you should read “Dogs of War” and its sequel “Bear Head”. The latter, BTW, features the most plausible version of a Mars terra-forming project I’ve ever met in SF.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey, too each their own. I prefer a more minimalist style, but obviously a lot of people like the verbose one. It seems like it’s more prevalent among British authors.

      I’ve definitely heard of Mieville, and The City & the City in particular. The description of the premise reminds me of a Jack Vance Dying Earth story of two societies coexisting among each other, but having a culture of being unable to perceive the other. (In Vance’s case, IIRC they were bitter enemies.) Embassytown looks interesting, and it’s in space, always a plus for me. And it also doesn’t look too long. I’m just not sure I’m up to parsing his stuff.

      I’ll keep Dogs of War and Bear Head in mind. Thanks for the recommendations!


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