Elder Race
Written by Adrian Tchaikovsky
Published by tor.com

The Skinny – A braided novella that plays well with two very different set of tropes.

Lynesse Fourth Daughter is a princess on a noble quest. Perhaps the queen forbid her to get involved, and she doesn’t really know what she’s doing, but she’s off to a good start. She’s even recruited the legendary sorcerer Nyrgoth Elder to her side. Except that ‘Nyrgoth’ is in fact Nyr Illim Tevitch, a shlubby, depressed anthropologist from Earth, who should be studying the regressed society of interstellar colonists instead of playing wizard. But the rest of his team headed back to Earth centuries ago, and he hasn’t heard anything from them. And he’s lonely and depressed. But everything should work out fine, right?
Elder Race mixes far-future science fiction with old school sword and sorcery. Author Adrian Tchaikovsky weaves a deft course between genre tropes and delivers a stunning gut-punch of a novella packed with complex characters.
The story is split between the points of view of the main characters, switching off between Lynesse and Nyr as they go to confront a ‘demon’ causing havoc on the planet’s surface. Nyr is sure that this is just another bit of old technology that’s gotten out of hand. Lyn is sure that the Ancient Sorcerer will have no problems dealing with evil magic, as he did centuries before, when her ancestor called him. Of course, they’re both super wrong.
One of my favorite tricks Tchaikovsky plays with in this story is in the use of language. Nyr is constantly frustrated by the fact that he can’t even confess that he’s a charlatan, because all of this post-Earth cultur’e’s words for ‘scientist’ are also cognates for ‘wizard.’ By shifting perspective, the reader gets to understand both characters better than they do each other. There is even a great sequence where their text appears side by side, and the reader sees the same story as Nyr means to tell it and as Lyn hears it.
Tchiakovsky takes a warrior princess and a displaced sci-fi crew member and puts them into what amounts to a comedy of manners, with each struggling to both use the other to their own ends, and to understand one another. It’s a clever little story, and it surprised and moved me more than I expected.
Elder Race is a delightful spec-fic gem of a novella, and I highly recommend picking it up, whether you’re a fan of quests or post-human existential angst, it’s a cocktail sure to delight the palate.