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Expert System #2

The Expert System’s Champion

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It’s been ten years since Handry was wrenched away from his family and friends, forced to wander a world he no longer understood. But with the help of the Ancients, he has cobbled together a life, of sorts, for himself and his fellow outcasts.

Wandering from village to village, welcoming the folk that the townships abandon, fighting the monsters the villagers cannot—or dare not—his ever-growing band of misfits has become the stuff of legend, a story told by parents to keep unruly children in line.

But there is something new and dangerous in the world, and the beasts of the land are acting against their nature, destroying the towns they once left in peace.

And for the first time in memory, the Ancients have no wisdom to offer…

194 pages, Kindle Edition

First published January 26, 2021

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About the author

Adrian Tchaikovsky

146 books9,518 followers
ADRIAN TCHAIKOVSKY was born in Lincolnshire and studied zoology and psychology at Reading, before practising law in Leeds. He is a keen live role-player and occasional amateur actor and is trained in stage-fighting. His literary influences include Gene Wolfe, Mervyn Peake, China Miéville, Mary Gently, Steven Erikson, Naomi Novak, Scott Lynch and Alan Campbell.

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5 stars
780 (32%)
4 stars
1,059 (43%)
3 stars
511 (20%)
2 stars
76 (3%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 143 reviews
Profile Image for Jamie.
1,143 reviews99 followers
February 4, 2021
My mind is blown. Again. Just when I thought I had figured out where this was going, BAM! Now I feel ashamed at having thought that Adrian Tchaikovsky might have dreamed up something that us mere mortals could have envisioned. At this point I should realize that he needs to be judged by a whole new set of standards from the rest of the sci-fi world.

Needless to say, I found The Expert System's Champion simply brilliant. And like all his sci-fi, uncanny, chilling and creepy. There's no bombast, no extraneous drama. He just drops crazy stuff in your lap like it's the most natural thing. And it feels believable, and genuine, and touching, because he grounds the story so deeply in a profound understanding of both biology - not details, but the foundational principles that underlie the driving forces of life - and the human spirit. He takes the monumental challenges presented by completely alien biospheres and couples it with an intimate understanding of what drives humanity - the hubris and the indomitable human spirit to survive and conquer all it surveys. And, as in the first book, the story continues to revolve around Handry and his sister, and the same themes of isolation and belonging.

Although immensely satisfying, I can only lament that these stories are not full length novels.
Profile Image for Phrynne.
3,163 reviews2,011 followers
January 19, 2022
Good but I liked it less than the first book.

Ten years after the the events in The Expert System's Brother Handry is now leader of the outcasts known as the Order of Cain. They have their place in society and Handry works with his sister Mellory to communicate with the Ancients on behalf of society as a whole.

Tchaikovsky deals them (and us) a savage blow as he introduces other threatening species which will upset everything that has been gained in this always unpleasant land. It becomes quite horrific especially as we discover what really happened to those early settlers who we got to know in the last book.

I must admit to not having grasped every detail of this book. Many of the references were vague and the reader is left to make rather uninformed guesses. Or perhaps I am just not smart enough. I enjoyed it anyway.
Profile Image for Lindsay.
1,249 reviews219 followers
February 10, 2021
Many years after the events of the previous book, the Severed are now referred to as the Order of Cain by themselves and the Bandage-Men by the villagers. They have carved out a place for themselves in the human exoplanet colony free of the biological imperative of the village trees, wasps and ghosts that control the humans of the villages. It's a difficult existence, as the world is poison to them, but they can do things no one else can do.

Word comes to Handry, now leader of the Order, of both a very different sort of expert system that's come out of a hostile village, and news of a remote village that has been destroyed mysteriously. When Handry investigates the destroyed village with one of the new expert systems in tow (a Champion, a new designation), he encounters a surprising native intelligence as well as a threat seeded from the earliest days of the colony.

I liked this one much more than the previous book, although the previous book was very much needed as world-building setup for this one. There's clearly much more to be told in Handry's story as well. Handry and Melory continue to be great, but the Champion of the title is Amorket, and also a terrific character in the way she struggles against her own programming as well as dealing with Handry and the Order. She's so brave, even when she should despair of the way her ghost and wasps are using her.

Profile Image for Justine.
1,112 reviews301 followers
February 25, 2021
I reminded myself that we were the lords of the unnatural. We had made ourselves the ambassadors between the people of the villages and that other unseen world the ancestors had come from. The world these stone-men had come from, too. There could be no other way of it. We were cousins beneath the skin, under the shell.
Profile Image for K.J. Charles.
Author 57 books7,899 followers
April 4, 2021
Excellent follow up to the original novella, expanding the world. A lot of thought provoking stuff about culture and colonialism and how we make societies packed into a pretty small space and still makes room for some excellent monster fighting.
Profile Image for Lata.
3,509 reviews187 followers
February 25, 2021
Taking place ten years after the end of The Expert System's Brother, Handry is now head of his group of Severed, now known as the Order of Cain. There have been some radical changes in the world of villages. The Order's members now travel between the villages, taking on people who have been Severed, fighting beasts, and delivering messages between villages. Handry and his band are gradually knitting the villages together. It's a brilliant development, with Mellory continuing to interface with the House of the Ancestors, and helping with the transmission of information and, more importantly, ideas. The Order and villagers have developed a much more productive relationship, consequently, where, even though the band of Severed are still seen as alien, they're not quite as feared as before, and there are rituals in place now to deal with each other.
A lone village seeks to destabilize this stability. Handry, Mellory and the Order encounter Amorket, a Champion from this village. Amorket is an interesting and frightening fusion of beings, and is intent on fighting the Order, even while she seems ambivalent about her duty. There is also word of someone destroying a village, and so Handry and company, including Amorket, discover a grave threat to all the villages.
Tchaikovsky also introduces us to the original colonists, and the terrible time they had settling this planet where everything is inimical to them. What happens here actually echoes into Handry's time.

This book was better than book 1, particularly in how Tchaikovsky built on what he'd established. Here, we're seeing how the world has changed as the Order's influences play out over years. I love that Mellory, though still a villager, is an integral part of Handry's group and how the brother-sister team work together to expand the others' lives and opportunities.
The threat in this story is both terrifying and horrifying, and we see how the original colonists' fate played out. Though there was a resolution at the end of this novella, I feel like we're not done with the frightening beings. I also really hope we see a book 3, as I think there's potential for more stories in this world.
Profile Image for Emiliya Bozhilova.
1,201 reviews178 followers
March 17, 2021
Биохимията и неврологията на този извънземен свят стават все по-странни, но обмислено поднесени от Чайковски. Светостроенето му се удава, кипи от свежи идеи. Тази повест се усеща като част от ненаписана още поредица, но е достатъчно самостоятелна.

Дано напише още книги за Ордена на Каин.

3,5 звезди
Profile Image for Ron.
Author 1 book135 followers
October 3, 2022
We, who can do things no other human can, and all we paid for the privilege was everything we had and ever were.

Engaging and imaginative science fiction about “second contact.” Tchaikovsky veers in a new direction for his second story on this world. Parallel narratives precede and follow The Expert System's Brother. Excellent development.

We were the lords of the unnatural. We had made ourselves the ambassadors between the people of the villages and that other unseen world the ancestors had come from.

Really unique aliens. So often, like online games and SF movies, the aliens are just humans with strange masks. Prepare to have your Eweh sense disturbed.

Hope was most of the little we had. The remainder, which was to say, my plan, was despair.
Profile Image for Goran Lowie.
Author 5 books32 followers
January 27, 2021
I really enjoyed the first novella but this just feels like more of the same. I still enjoyed it, I was just hoping for it to be more different.
Profile Image for nero.
50 reviews36 followers
March 6, 2021
This story is so unlike anything else I've ever read that I just can't help but feel utterly amazed by it. I didn't realize where things were going until probably 70% into the book, and even then, I was still... surprised and fascinated.
Profile Image for S.J. Higbee.
Author 13 books29 followers
February 8, 2021
I struggled with this one initially, which was something of a disappointment – and not a usual experience with Tchaikovsky’s writing. There is a Prologue that goes on for 9% of the book that doesn’t include the main protagonist, Handry, who I really emotionally identified with in The Expert System’s Brother. I would have preferred more of a bonding event with Handry at the start of this adventure, because while I enjoyed the story and found the plight of the early colonists engrossing – I didn’t particularly care about any of the characters, throughout, this time around.

That said, this is still worth reading. Nobody does colonisation quite like Tchaikovsky and the sheer inventive cleverness of the story and the consequent oddity of the inhabitants had me turning to pages to discover what would happen next. Though I’m profoundly grateful I don’t live within an ecosystem that fundamentally is toxic to my body, given the ultimate adaptation that was made to provide humanity with the ability to survive the place. Wasps and snails are involved, for starters… And if Tchaikovsky produces another book set within this remarkable world, I’ll be getting hold of it. Even if this one didn’t emotionally chime with me as much as the previous book – it is still a thought-provoking, enjoyable read.
Profile Image for Tim Hicks.
1,474 reviews116 followers
April 2, 2022
I was never big on bio-SF, and on top of that I have just learned that this is #2 in a series.
Still, I'm left with the feeling that there are too many ideas here for novella length, but not enough that we can get a grip on to provide a solid base for novel length. In a novella you can answer "how does?" with "it just does, enjoy the story."

So I'll allow all the bio stuff on that basis. I recognize the core idea that the other creatures' needs and priorities etc. are beyond our understanding. I recognize the sort of planet I first met in Harry Harrison's wonderful Deathworld series.

I recognize the inevitable picking-them-off-one-at-a-time-we-have-to-have-a-showdown-against-all-odds. The only thing an author can do then is redefine what it means to win/lose, and AT has done that here.

The novella also allows for sketches of the original tech that feel as if they were painted in the dark with a single-hair brush. I actually liked that, because it suggests how the current colonists might have seen it.

So, well executed but not to my taste. I probably won't go back to read #1.
Profile Image for Lucas.
230 reviews
August 24, 2021
The story went in a direction I wasn't expecting and didn't build off my favorite parts of the first book. Still good writing but didn't quite land completely for me. Reading it back to back it seemed like it didn't quite have continuity with the first one especially in terms of the themes. Almost felt like a different story
Profile Image for Mikah.
58 reviews1 follower
February 9, 2022
Nobody excels at creating a fully realized world in so few pages like Tchaikovsky.
Profile Image for Cobwebby Eldritch Reading Reindeer .
5,072 reviews266 followers
August 20, 2021
In the enterprising and mind-expanding sequel to THE EXPERT SYSTEM'S BROTHER, Handry, the outcast sibling of Melory, has become the "priest" of the tribe of Bandaged Men, those who had suffered Severance from the villages of their nativity. His sister Melory, who had been chosen to carry the "doctor ghost" (the villagers all call the "expert systems" which possess chosen individuals to be doctor, architect, lawgiver--and others as needed--"ghosts"), and Handry have for a decade striven to improve both relations and communication among the widely scattered villages, using the wisdom of the Ancestors still contained in the House of the Ancestors (the original space vessel). When they encounter a wasp-ridden Champion whose village is determined to eradicate the "Bandaged Men," that seems sufficient danger. But subsequent events reveal the terrifying truth about the fates of an exploratory scientific outpost of the original landing mission.

Extremely creative, the world-building and the blending of ecosystems, biology, and zoology, is incredible and absorbingly fascinating. I highly recommend both novels, and I suggest reading them immediately consecutively for best absorption.
Profile Image for Susan.
652 reviews
February 23, 2021
Quick read on vacation. I liked the first novella better; the characters were more engaging and better developed. Still, a really unusual set of aliens and interactions, and good writing.
Profile Image for Fernando Goulart.
40 reviews7 followers
March 27, 2021
Great sequel! Handry and his sister Melory returns ten years after the events depicted on the first book, to discover new strange alien species, and a great mystery behind them. I love this novella format, the story moves foward at a great pace, with no room for pointless fillers. The book has a satisfying conclusion, and I feel you could read it as a standalone novel, though you will defintely enjoy it more knowing the background and evolution of the main characters. Can’t wait to see what the author brings on the next books!
Profile Image for J.
52 reviews6 followers
July 17, 2022
Like the previous book in this series, I thought this was a good look at how humans might survive in an environment that is deeply hostile to them.

I particularly liked the way the Bandage-Men had carved out a specific niche for themselves in the strange society that's arisen on this alien world. They've made themselves into semi-mythic figures who have a specific role, rather than the undesired and scattered outcasts. I'm not deep into carceral justice reading, but there's an interesting analysis about the rehabilitation-like approach in this book. Handry does keep emphasizing that he's one of the Order by mistake, which I found frustrating after a while.

I also liked the Champion system, and Amonket: what a way to depict a system rebelling against change. It's interesting to me, the way her entanglement with her ghost seems deeper than that of Melory or Iblis. This is never fully explained; personally, I don't mind, I think more books should leave things unexplained.

In fact, this book could have done with less explaining: I didn't love the flashbacks to Bain's struggles back when humans were first acclimatizing to the planet. I thought the book could've done without them; we eventually found out all we needed to know about the snails through Handry's story. Also, there was a degree of moralization present that I found distasteful. Bain was a bad leader, and that's why his group had the disordered, all-consuming, unnatural transformation that lost them their humanity. The other group was careful and orderly; they couldn't have foreseen their mistakes, and therefore their transformation is the good one that allows their descendants to retain humanity. This dichotomy is a little didactic for my taste. It would go well with the fable / oral history affect of the first novella, but that affect is incompatible with the flashbacks. I do appreciate that Handry realizes that the snails are their kin, and they should try to reach out, but the overall morality of it all is too much for me.

And I said I would come back to the odd chasteness of the Order of Cain... I find it difficult to believe that Melory couldn't bully the doctor-system into a recipe for contraceptives, or the House-ship into making condoms, or something. Presumably Tchaikovsky just doesn't want to deal with all of that, but I find the complete absence of sex as a concern somewhat jarring.

A small note: In the first book, names of creatures (Harboons, Brackers, etc) were capitalized; in this one they weren't. I liked it better when they were capitalized. An odd little old-earth remnant that says "these are unusual to us".
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for ทixi৳ท.
162 reviews13 followers
July 27, 2021
“I am Handry of the Order of Cain! We have made our camp at the edge of your village! If you have beasts, we shall drive them away! If you have word, we shall bear it! If you have outcasts, we shall claim them as our due.”

It wasn’t a bad sequel, but sometimes the plot was very confusing to me. I still don’t understand where this whole thing is going to go. The past and Ancestors are still pretty foggy (however I learned a little more about the Ancestors than in the first book). Oh and the snail part was pretty morbid... at least for me.

In any case no matter how morbid the sequel was, I will continue the series because I wonder where the story will go next.

“People die, houses fall down, but the village lives forever.”
Profile Image for Laura (crofteereader).
888 reviews32 followers
January 18, 2021
I loved the choice to show us the actual "Ancestors" we heard about in the previous book - to see the dichotomy of this hostile environment from both arrival and survival. Handry felt more compelling as an adult with a history and people of his own than he did as the boy he was in The Expert System's Brother. And the Champion herself was a fascinating study in fear/hate/anger.

The ancestors, Bain, Lena, and Geordi, had most of my interest and attention. The desperation in their existence their experiments, their hopelessness. Even at the threat of war, Handry and the Order and the villagers didn't have that same sense of urgency. I think that came from Handry's own offhand telling (like how he says something to the effect of "I don't remember now what they said exactly") which serves to lessen the impact and remind us that, beyond all else, he survived.

The ending felt a bit like a cop-out, though. Handry and Amorket didn't seem to really interact very much - at least not directly (more as a proof of concept, I guess?) so their opinion of each other seemed kind of unfounded.

{Thank you Tor.com for the advanced copy in exchange for my honest review; all thoughts are my own}
Profile Image for Adam  McPhee.
1,239 reviews169 followers
April 20, 2021
A pair of siblings trying to negotiate a middle path between a technocratic elite unable to adapt to change & reactionary masses unable to plan, set in a world that makes the most of the author's background as an entomologist... and then things get w e i r d.

Some amazing body horror and strange insect aliens in this one.

Really need to get around to reading his full length novels soon.
Profile Image for Eric.
33 reviews5 followers
February 8, 2021
A follow up full of surprises in this world of exobiology, beyond “expert systems”.
Profile Image for Andy.
89 reviews
February 24, 2021
A good short read from Tchaikovsky exploring the world of the Expert System a little more. There's certainly plenty left here if he wants to revisit it once again.
Profile Image for Johan Haneveld.
Author 81 books70 followers
April 30, 2022
9+ This novella solidified for me Tchaikovsky's position as my favourite modern SF-author. Surpassing for me even authors like Becky Chambers, Stephen Baxter and Alastair Reynolds. This is in part because he combines their strong points - Chamber's humane point of view, Baxter's exploration of science and Reynold's use of horror elements. Add to that a great use of prose adapted to the story he wants to tell and a love for biology (I am a biology lover myself, so this feels like its written for me) and there's no author alive today who I appreciate more. And then there are the facts that he is quite productive, offering several novels and novella's each year, and in different subgenres. I think I will never tire of his work.
Anyway, this all to say that I was predisposed to enjoy this novella, and I did indeed. I had a blast. I think it's of a par with the first novella in this series. My complaint with that book was that the start of the story was a bit too estranging for me to get a grasp on it - written from the perspective of a native who himself doesn't know what's going on. But the conclusion of the story made it all worthwile. In this novella part of the surprise is lost, and it turns out I even missed having the the estrangement of the first part. On the other hand, having more of a grip on this world and the biological underpinnings of this society, means Tchaikovsky can come up with larger concepts, adding to the world a whole new layer of complexity. And he does. With gutso. As an amateur biologist I know nature is full of things regular people would see as horrors. Think about parasitism, but also forms of symbiosis or the way male deep sea anglerfish fuse with the females. Tchaikovsky comes up with a whole new ecosystem here, with its own forms of symbiosis. And this leads to quite a bit of horrific imagery. Like a girl being changed into a hive for agressive wasps ... Which is the least scary of the body horror images in this novella. It packs quite a punch.
The larger story means more focus on the happenings in the world and less on the journey of protagonist Handry, who mainly performs his role as the leader of the group of outcasts he found himself in. I think this makes the story lose some of its personal core. I thought the discoveries about the larger world made up for this lack of focus on his characters, but if you are purely a character driven reader you might be disappointed. All in all, I really enjoyed this as one of the better biopunk stories I have read, and if you like SF and have never yet read Adrian Tchaikovsky I think you had better start! He will only get better and he's already towering over the competition.
Profile Image for Thomas.
1,919 reviews56 followers
January 29, 2021
The world of the Expert System novellas is a complex one. It took me a while to get a handle on what the world was, in the first one, and here in the second, it took me a while to get a handle on the flow of the story. I expected to struggle with the world again, but Tchaikovsky does an admirable job of bringing you back into it, and besides, some of the imagery of the first story isn't the kind that leaves you after closing the book.

Tchaikovsky is truly a master, and this series shows off his skills. I would have rated it five stars, but the ending comes a bit suddenly, with a resolution that doesn't quite feel earned. Still, it all makes sense, and it's a story that carries a lot of thematic weight, and a lot of wild ideas. Fans of science fiction will eat these books up.

2021 Popsugar Reading Challenge: A book that's published in 2021
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