The Expert Systems Brother by Adrian Tchaikovsky

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I have been on an Adrian Tchaikovsky kick and I am not getting bored at all. Sometimes when I binge through an author’s work I get a little bored because the themes, worlds, cahracters are similar — but that’s not at all the case here. I have been searching for a versatile prolific writer and I have found one!

I love that with all these novellas I’ve read there are completely different fully-developed worlds that breathe and feel real but don’t absorb 100% of the page time leaving for substandard plot or characters. I’m still stunned every time I read one of these novellas and feel like I got a full meat and bones story because 99 percent of the time when I’m done with a novella, I liked it, but I didn’t feel it was “complete”. I always want more character development, or more about the world. Not with this guy though, and I’m just continually impressed.

Enough squeeing.

In this world people live in remote communities or villages, they know about each other but they keep to themselves more or less, until a need arises for an exchange of goods or people. These communities are governed by what the residents call ‘ghosts’. These ghosts tell the people what to do and when in regards to running the crops, laws, breeding practices etc. People don’t seem to question this even when the ghosts tell them it’s time to ‘sever’ someone from the group. This is either a punishment or what happens when someone is no longer useful to the community. They are marked by an elder and afterwards they wither and die, unable to eat or drink anything on the planet.

Well, our MC was accidentally marked by being careless and stupid and running into the liquid on accident. The villagers scrambled to get it off of him, but it partially absorbed… which means he was partially severed. He has a difficult time eating, and it’s almost like when the pheromones are wrong in an insect community, the people don’t fully recognize him. It’s not that they’re going out of their way to be cruel, but it’s like he’s invisible, he’s not sending the right signals. They tolerate him, but just barely. Only his sister cares about him anymore, but things go poorly when she’s chosen to be the next healer. Healers and certain other leaders in the community are bound to the ghosts, becoming fused with them. Once this happens she can’t help but turn on him even though she doesn’t want to, she’s not in total control anymore.

So, now he has to go on the run out into the wilderness and try to survive on his own without the help of a tribe. He discovers what the ghosts really are and why the planet is the way it is. It’s a really fascinating journey.

As with most of Tchaikovsky’s books this was really fast paced with little to no meandering. Everything was purposefully done with just the right amount so I felt like I got a complete story without any one aspect of the writing overwhelming the other — like I didn’t feel the characters suffered development to make room for the plot or world building.

As always, I highly recommend this to anyone.


  • Plot: 13/15
  • Characters: 11/15
  • World Building: 13/15
  • Writing: 14/15
  • Pacing: 14/15
  • Originality: 15/15
  • Enjoyment: 9/10

Final Score: 89/100 or 5 stars on Goodreads