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Firewalkers: Signed limited edition…
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Firewalkers: Signed limited edition hardcover from Arthur C. Clarke… (2020 original; edició 2020)

de Adrian Tchaikovsky (Autor)

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Títol:Firewalkers: Signed limited edition hardcover from Arthur C. Clarke award-winning author Adrian Tchaikovsky
Autors:Adrian Tchaikovsky (Autor)
Informació:Solaris (2020), 208 pages
Col·leccions:La teva biblioteca
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Firewalkers de Adrian Tchaikovsky (2020)

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Even though I have read only a small percentage of Adrian Tchaikovsky’s works, I can see from this limited sample that his imagination can take very different roads from one book to the next, and Firewalkers is a prime example of this.

In a not-so-distant future in which climatic changes have wrought havoc on Earth, the planet is divided between areas where floods from the melting icecaps are submerging most of the land, and areas - like the equatorial belt - where desertification and rising temperatures have transformed once lush jungles into arid wastelands. The equator is still a sought-after location, though, because it’s the place where the anchor points for space elevators have been built, bringing people to the safety and comfort of the huge ships in construction. That is, those who can afford it, which is only a privileged few. The others try to eke a meager existence by servicing the crumbling infrastructure that supports the anchor and elevator and the arrays of solar panels feeding energy to them.

In one such settlements live the three main characters of the story, young people whose job is to cross the scorching, dusty desert to service and repair the solar panels located in distant areas that were once inhabited and have now been abandoned to the encroaching sands. These Firewalkers, so called because their young bodies are better suited to withstand the broiling heat of the desert, regularly endure the extreme environmental conditions to earn the relatively higher pay such jobs can bring in, risking their lives each time to provide for themselves and their families.

Nguyēn Sun Mao is the descendant of Vietnamese refugees escaped from the floods that obliterated their country and he’s the point man of the group; Lupé is of African descent and represents the engineering genius in the team, as she is able to repair or jerry-rig practically anything; then there is Hotep, so called because she protects her fair complexion under mummy-like bandages, and she is the technical expert. The three of them have been working together for some time and forged a successful unit, so that they are often given the more difficult assignments - and the most dangerous of course.

This latest assignment brings them toward a rarely - if ever - explored area, one where what remains of the palatial mansions of the rich crumbles under heat and neglect, and where unknown dangers, and even monstrous creatures are rumored to dwell. The three Firewalkers’ journey soon evolves into the search for clues to unveil a mystery, and in the discovery that something does indeed lurk in the deep desert, but it’s nothing they would have ever imagined. The story takes on a sort of quest-like flavor, with our heroes facing known and unknown perils as we get to know their personalities and quirks, while being shown how the world we know has been changed by the damage humanity inflicted on it.

The ground crunched lifeless beneath his feet […] the sun the head of a white hot rivet driven in by some celestial smith.

The story’s main focus is on Mao, a boy in his late teens possessed with the maturity of a far older man, because the kind of life he and his crewmates lead tends to burn people away at an accelerated rate: there is little room for hope in this world, and yet we see him try to do his best in the worst of circumstances, trying to take some pride in what he does and exhibiting a natural, if laid back, quality of leadership that brings his two companions to trust him and abide by his decisions no matter how uncertain and dangerous the path. Maybe because

[…] it was Mao who had most experience walking on the surface of an alien world, even if it was Earth.

Lupé, as befitting an engineer - even one as self-taught as she is - is both efficient and business-like, never allowing dangers, either real or imagined, to get between her and the machinery she is repairing or adjusting. As the one in her family with the best-paying job, her young shoulders are burdened by the weight of keeping them as comfortable as possible, and she translates this responsibility to her traveling mates as well: there is one scene in which she keeps servicing their transport’s life support even as some problem approaches, and we see her keeping up the work with the steadiness of a much more seasoned veteran, something that is both admirable and heartbreaking.

And last, but not least, Hotep: she is the wild card of the group in that she was born in space as one of the privileged, but was sent down to Earth - literally discarded - by parents who could not bear her psychological problems and quirky, non-conformed behavior. Her prickly character, like the bandages she wears, is a way of masking the deep pain of abandonment, the resentment at the sheer, heartless injustice and betrayal she was subjected to. It’s through Hotep’s situation that we can perceive the cruel divide in Earth’s people, because if her parents hardly flinched at condemning their own daughter to a short life of hardships and suffering without a qualm, what about the few privileged that could escape from the dying planet and are living in comfort and luxury while the rest of the population slowly dies of heat, thirst and diminishing food?

The themes developed in this story are of course climate and environmental changes, and the social upheavals following them, but there are other elements that are equally intriguing, like the construction of the massive ships in Earth orbit - probably more arcologies than mere vessels - and the space elevators connecting them to the surface. What I found truly fascinating are the remains of the previous civilization - our actual civilization, I believe - and the way the protagonists observe them as though they were relics from a more distant past, and that they are unable to connect with for lack of common references. There are several instances in which Mao & Co. talk about tv shows from the past - still being aired - and how the people depicted in there, their way of life, look more alien than extraterrestrial creatures: this, more than anything else shows us readers how our world has changed from the present conditions.

Firewalkers is a dense book indeed, in the sense that it holds many concepts in a relatively small number of pages, and that’s its only flaw from my point of view: this kind of story should have deserved more space to “breathe” and fulfill its amazing potential. For this same reason, the ending felt to me somewhat abrupt and less satisfying than I would have expected from the initial buildup, but still it was an engrossing read, and a further incentive to explore Adrian Tchaikovsky’s other works. ( )
  SpaceandSorcery | Mar 5, 2021 |
Short novel about Mao and his crew: Firewalkers who go out into the desert that humans have made of the equator, maintaining the solar panels that bring power (and preserve water) to the port that takes the wealthy off-planet so they can escape the dying. The precariat around them hangs on for scraps. But with the solar panels failing at a much greater rate than normal, the Firewalkers are sent to find and fix the problem—and discover much more than they expected. If your deus ex machina wants to kill all the wealthy to stop their hoarding, should you go along? ( )
  rivkat | Oct 5, 2020 |
Tchaikovsky’s work is all much hit and miss for me (lately more miss than hit). I should have ignored every single blurb I read: in books like these the great the good fall over themselves with superlatives and the words have long since lost any real meaning. Far more worrying is the fact that a lot of dross is still being published. I won’t list here all the books I have read from leading publishers with sloppy writing, implausible plots and one-dimensional characters. How this ever got to be published, I have wondered on numerous occasions. I’m pretty certain too that a lot of good writing never gets to the bookstores because of all kinds of quirks and prejudices in the trade itself. But these writers have agents, ffs! Just take a look at what these oh-so-important people often post on their websites: I won’t have this, I cannot accept that, I must have it submitted in a particular format, unless you conform to our environmental standards it’ll go straight into the bin, etc., etc. Granted a lot of writers keep trying their luck, but you’d have thought that agents would be far less prescriptive in their attitudes, knowing as we all do how many times in the past they have failed to spot talent. But this does not happen 'especially' in publishing. Also music, sport, art, you name the activity; it's the exception to be professionally successful. Talent/ability; luck; social connection also play a crucial part in many cases. It's a 'normal distribution' thing - the great percentage of any talent is in the modest to barely noticeable range. The very successful are the very lucky - and statistically very unusual. In this there is no justice, and lots of heartbreak. Not to mention lost talent. Tchaikovky’s stuff has all the right ingredients but the execution is imply atrocious. Of course success teaches you nothing. Apart from repeating what you’ve just done. Which is kind of boring. Failure teaches you to rethink it all. Rebuild it. Begin again. Failure is the most profound learning point in anyone’s life. Author or not. You have to embrace that which is painful or you’ll never develop. Tchaikovky has not developed an iota since the beginning of his career! Maybe his agent only recognises its marketability and know where it would fit on a book shelf without needing to fall in love with it… ( )
  antao | Aug 20, 2020 |
I would like to thank Netgalley for providing me with an early copy of this book in exchange for an honest review in return.

I'm just going to jump straight into this, I enjoyed this book, is it my favorite Sci-fi book out there no, but it was enjoyable and worked great for the short length. Scifi is a genre that I will admit I am still very new to, so at times there are moments when I don't particularly feel like I know what its going on. The first chapter of this book was honestly very confusing to me. I had to re-read parts a few times and I'm not entirely sure if it was an editing thing or just my mind not grasping what was being told. Once I got out of chapter 1 everything started to make sense, so don't be turned away if you run into the same feeling.

We are thrown into this post apocalyptic world, where the rich live in space and have everything they could ever desire and the poor are left back on Earth where its basically a giant dried up wasteland. And of course its the poor who make sure the rich keep getting to live their comfy lives up there in space, in hopes of one day getting to join them. Its a common theme for storytelling but I did enjoy it none the less.

In the initial meeting of the Firewalkers we are told they are a group of young adults, late teens who walk the burnt, dried up Earth when problems arise in their townships. Now when I initially read the ages of the characters I did my usual eye roll, because you know 19 year olds saving the day is just..... so realistic haha. But the thing that I liked that Tchaikovsky did with this, was he provided an excellent and thought out reason as to why a bunch of 19 year olds are the best choice for being Firewalkers. After it was explained I sat back and genuinely thought about the approach and agreed with the logic behind it.

The pacing of the storytelling, was wishy washy for me, some moments it was super interesting, others felt like I was trudging through mud, and others left me just confused (but that one is more of a personal issue with being new to sci-fi terminology so don't hold to much to that please)

The characters where alright, none of them really stood out to me, I didn't feel any strong connection to them, they were decently built and easy to follow along with, and I'm sure someone out there will enjoy their character types. Although at times the conversations they had felt hard to follow and understand because of the approach to the language that was taken. The story is obviously years in the future and language changes over time and I felt like I couldn't get a grasp on some of the terms or phrases that they used that were suppose to be considered normal for them.

The plot itself was entertaining once the story moved from the township to actually following the firewalkers out in the open. For me the storytelling really picked up about chapter 4 and beyond. The last half of the book, was exciting in terms of action but then the very tail end of the story just seemed to drop the momentum, the twists were good in my mind, maybe to the more experienced sci-fi reader it might be an obvious approach but for me it felt twisty and unexpected.

Overall, I really did enjoy the idea and it was executed well, For the most part I believe its an easy to follow plot, with decent likable characters, and good world building, with well executed ideals. A quick fun read for something to pass the time. ( )
  SweetKokoro | Jul 30, 2020 |

A novella that punches above its weight, delivering a well-imagined, skilfully revealed future where a young and poor underclass of 'Firewalkers' risk their lives to service the global billionaire elite as they prepare to escape a dying Earth and leave the rest of us to burn.

My experience with Adrienne Tchaikovsky's books is mixed. I loved his standalone 'Dogs Of War' novel about genetically enhanced animals being used as soldiers but I couldn't get into his very popular 'Children Of Time' series.

I decided to try 'Firewalkers' because I wanted to see how Tchaikovsky handled the novella ( the book is 165 pages) and because it spoke to a topical theme: the very wealthy insulating themselves from the consequences of the environmental collapse that they have become wealthy by accelerating. I'm certain that the people funding Climate Change Denial see climate change as an opportunity to winnow the world's population while strengthening their own wealth and privilege.

I admired how much Adrian Tchaikovsky packed into this novella without ever making me feel that he was taking short-cuts or force-feeding me info dumps. He skilfully unpacks an Earth that is burning at the equator and drowning everywhere else; an Earth that has spent three generations of the poor and the desperate working to enable the mega-rich to flee the planet in huge luxury spaceships; an Earth where young Firewalkers head out into the killing heat to service the solar panels that keep the rich in air-conditioned luxury as they wait to take the space elevator up to their heaven in the sky.

The world-building is very well done. Everything feels real and depressingly plausible. It's not a future I'd want to be part of but I can see it coming. William Gibson is reputed to have said, 'The future is already here, it's just not very evenly distributed.' Tchaikovsky's future is definitely already here. It's in the burning of the rainforest in Brazil and the mining of diamonds in Africa and the refugees fleeing across the world. What Tchaikovsky does is make those things the 'new normal' of the future and imagine the attitudes and behaviours of the people born into it who know they can't fix the planet and they can't leave it either.

The FIrewalkers' trip out into the dead desert is a great piece of road-trip writing. It's high on tension and has great visuals. It's full of dangerous things that are never quite what they appear to be and which hint at either total disaster or a possible way out.

I liked the fact that Tchaikovsky didn't sugar-coat the Firewalkers' choices wrap them in some kind of heroic nobility. He shows how little chance they have of surviving and how much they're willing to do to keep breathing.

The ending was grimly satisfying. It also left a lot of tantalising possibilities about what might happen next.

The only weakness in the novella was that one of the main characters, a woman Firewalker with a passion for fixing things who is important to the plot, was very lightly drawn. Still, that's the kind of trade-off you may have to make to fit all of this into a novella.

I recommend listening to the audiobook version which is wonderfully performed by Adjoa Andoh.
( )
  MikeFinnFiction | Jun 30, 2020 |
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