Firewalkers – Adrian Tchaikovsky

Firewalkers by Adrian Tchaikovsky
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

For a novella, Adrian Tchaikovsky’s “Firewalkers” contains a whole novel’s worth of ideas as well as a densely imagined world which is wholly original and at the same time completely inevitable. We’re in the endtimes of the climate crisis and the people of the small African town of Ankara Achouka cling to existence in the hottest equatorial climes of a ravaged Earth. The reason the town exists is to service the uber-rich pilgrims who journey there to ascend the space elevator to the still-under-construction spaceliner Grand Celeste that will carry those select few into the stars, consigning the masses to endure the unendurable until the final heat-death of the planet claims them all.

It’s a scenario that is completely believable. The tech bros and politicians will eventually throw up their hands and pour their efforts into saving themselves rather than saving humanity. And those to be left behind will be so cowed by everything that’s happened to them on a decaying Earth, that they’ll facilitate that final betrayal, at least for as long as they and theirs get a crumb to eat and a breath of cool air.

In this hellscape, the Firewalkers are those who dare to go south, where it’s even hotter than Ankara Achouka, to fix the crumbling tech that the town of the space elevator depends on for power. There are vast fields of solar panels built during earlier times when the whole Grand Celeste project was still being dreamed up. The optimal Firewalker crew consists of a pathfinder and strongarm, a mech to fix infrastructure and a tech to fix software and hardware problems. Now the air-conditioning in the uber-rich hotels isn’t getting enough power so Pathfinder Mao, Mech Lupé and Tech Hotep (who used to live on the Grand Celeste until she was cast out) climb in their barely air-conditioned, solar-powered Bug and head out to find the problem.

What they find instead is a puzzle. A mansion blazing with light and encircled by gardens that have no right to be where they are. And then they meet the inhabitants and find out how deep the rabbit hole goes…

This is a first-class story that puts you right in the middle of the action and – seemingly effortlessly – builds a world around you that is at once horrifying, deadly, but not completely bereft of hope. Not yet. Tchaikovsky yet again demonstrates he is at the top of his game – and has been for several years.

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