As opening lines go ‘I’m at the Integrity Bank job for 40 minutes before the anxieties kick in’ is right up there with ‘The sky was the colour of a TV tuned to a dead channel.’ However, where Neuromancer now plays like a quaint, and honestly rather optimistic, view of the future, Rosewater has much more complicated things to say.
Rosewater is a town built up around an alien bidodome in Nigeria. The dome is impenetrable, definitively extra-terrestrial and sits at the middle of an accretion disc of businesses, cults, chancers, crooks and intelligence services.
Kaaro is basically all of them. A sensitive, someone able to sense the xenosphere of metaphor and quantum information we all swim through in this quietly altering world, Kaaro is a former thief turned thief-catcher and spy. Kaaro is also one of the few people to know what the dome truly is and that knowledge haunts the novel, and the man, long before the Landry list of everything else that goes wrong in his life begins.
Read everything Tade Thompson puts out. It’s really that simple. The Murders of Molly Southborne, his ice cold Tor espionage novella is terrifying and engrossing as though Angela Carter wrote Natasha Romanov. Rosewater, much like Kaaro, is superficially far more genial but has plans within plans hidden underneath that surface level charm.
This is a novel about what would happen if we were invaded and didn’t notice. It’s a novel about the Singularity not as a light switch but as a gradually boiling kettle, the world changing around us so infinitesimally we don’t think to care. Thompson scatters incredible ideas through the novel like the offshoot pollen of an alien plant but always does in a remarkably grounded way. A gang boss with a pet alien killer still uses an off the books building for his dirty work. Kaaro’s abilities cause him to constantly seek peace and quiet. Wormwood, the interstellar object, heals some people. Others it simply reanimates. One of the novel’s best sequences sees Kaaro have to fight and dispatch a newly ‘healed’ person whose brain has been functionally disassembled and is essentially a zombie. It’s a terrifying sequence but for a pair of fascinating reasons. The first is that Kaaro views it less as an unprecedented event and more as a ‘…must be Tuesday.’ level nuisance. The second is that he freely admits he’s rubbish at fighting and that this ‘nuisance’ is still very dangerous.
That different perspective returns again and again throughout the novel. Cutting between Kaaro’s criminal past and his government-sponsored criminal present Thompson explores the perils and thrills of living in a town with a xeno-biological singularity at it’s center. His characters still work, still have sex, still get drunk. But the specific gravity of the biodome drags everything and everyone back to it again and again. This is daily life with the wrong amount of minutes per day. This is Roadside Picnic with extra governmental oversight. This is extraordinarily good, inventive writing that takes you somewhere you’ve never been before and shows you science fiction through a very different light. One which not only shares the lack of moral compass that makes Kaaro so interesting but also evolves that idea one step further and explores what happens when your morality is forcibly evolved by your experience. Kaaro the thief. Kaaro the spy. Kaaro the herald of something truly unprecedented. Or perhaps its nemesis.
All of this is true. All of this is on display in Rosewater and all of it speaks to this being one of the strongest books I’ve read all year, Tade is a fiercely inventive, compassionate and funny new voice on the circuit. More power to him and the best of luck to the citizens of Rosewater, set to return in 2019. I suspect they’re going to need it…
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