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The Rosewater Insurrection by Tade Thompson

Orbit, 2019, 379 p.

This is the second in the author’s Rosewater trilogy of which I reviewed the first here.

In this instalment something is up with the alien named Wormwood, buried in a part of Nigeria, where the city of Rosewater has grown up around it. The latest clone of the human from whom it derives sustenance, Anthony, has failed to form properly. A woman called Alyssa Sutcliffe has woken up not knowing who she is – nor her husband and daughter – but with other memories intact. She does not know who she is, only that she is not Alyssa. The novel is told through various other viewpoints as well – some first person, others third – including two of the characters from the previous book in the sequence, Aminat, and Kaaro, plus Eric (an agent of S45 Nigeria’s security service) and the mayor of Rosewater, Jack Jacques, who is in dispute with the President of Nigeria and declares independence, relying on the alien’s presence to protect the city. There are also extracts from a novel titled Kudi by Walter Tanmola, who in addition narrates one section which focuses on his experiences after he is enlisted by Jacques to write an “impartial” chronicle of the independence struggle and during which he forms a relationship with a construct, Lora, who acts as Jacques’s advisor/personal assistant. And, too, we remake acquaintance with S45’s most formidable operative, Femi Alaagomeji, but only through other eyes.

Alien cells called xenoforms are infiltrating the bodies of humans, “‘We change the organisms and live in them. In you.’” S45 is involved in a project to try to separate these cells from living humans. The attempts are not going well. Alyssa is of particular interest as she is over 70% xenoform. Some of the novel is taken up with Aminat’s efforts to keep Alyssa away from S45’s attentions, some of it with the conflict between Rosewater and Nigeria, another strand deals with the xenosphere, a dream-like atlternative universe, into which Kaaro can take his consciousness and where he has a gryphon as an avatar. To add to all this an intrusive plant species, which may have been inspired by The Day of the Triffids but isn’t quite so threatening, is taking over Rosewater.

As in the previous book there is a lot going on; perhaps too much. At times it seems Thompson isn’t quite sure what kind of novel he wants this to be. It veers between thriller, fantasy, adventure story and quasi-allegory. The situation is so extreme that the characters don’t get the time to behave as humans (of course, at least two of them are not.) Certainly there is a third instalment to come, but I may leave that for a while.

At the end of the novel this edition has “extras” – a half page of author information and several pages of extract from another book by a different author. I do wish publishers would cease this practice. I do not understand who would read these. I’m certainly not going to start a book which I cannot possibly finish and may well find offputting in any case, so defeating the purpose. It has the effect of merely filling out the page count to make a book look bigger than it actually is.

Pedant’s corner:- “none ever return” (none ever returns.) “She is clothed in some diaphanous material, but it is like a nightgown and covers nothing” (if she’s clothed she is covered, a nightgown is also a covering. I suspect Thompson meant ‘hides nothing’,) maw (it’s a stomach, not a mouth,) “none of them fit” (none of them fits,) staunches (stanches.) “It lays down” (It lies down,) floatation (flotation – used later,) “good to his word” (good as his word,) phosphorous (phosphorus,) “reaches a crescendo” (no, the crescendo is the increase, not its climax,) lay (lie,) “a skein of geese make their way” (a skein [of geese] makes its way,) ganglions (elsewhere ganglia is used for this plural.)

Rosewater by Tade Thompson

Orbit, 2018, 393 p.

 Rosewater cover

Rosewater was a nominee for the BSFA Award last year and won the Clarke Award. Its successor The Rosewater Insurrection is on this year’s BSFA Award short list. As I hope to get round to reading that before voting I thought I’d better look at this first.

Rosewater is a doughnut-shaped city that surrounds the biodome, an alien outcropping in Nigeria. The biodome opens once every year for twenty or thirty minutes and everyone in the vicinity is cured of all physical ailments. Even dead people can be reanimated, but the results tend to be soulless and mindless, and have to be killed again.

Narrator Kaaro is a sensitive, able to discern the thoughts of others by accessing the xenosphere, strands of alien fungi-like filaments and neurotransmitters, which link with the natural fungi on human skin and penetrate the nervous system. His abilities have made him useful to S45, a branch of the Nigerian security services. He is also a finder, and a thief. Later his abilities are referred to as those of a quantum extrapolator. His attitudes are misogynist and sexist, notwithstanding his entering a relationship with a woman called Aminat. Not that strong women are missing in the book, his initial S45 boss, Femi Alaagomeji, and Aminat being cases in point.

The novel is structured into scenes taking place in Kaaro’s Now of 2066, the Then of when the biodome first appeared and its subsequent evolution, and interludes describing his previous missions for S45. This tends to render the reading experience as bitty. Just when getting into the swing of things in one timeline we are jarred out of it, often with a cliffhanger. Coming across in the background we find that the thing humans call Wormwood was an amœbic blob of alien organic matter that fell to Earth in 2012 in Hyde Park, London. Unlike previous such incursions, Wormwood survived and (apparently) tunnelled its way to Nigeria.

Not that it has any real connection to any part of Kaaro’s story, but we are informed that in this world, as a response to the alien incursions, the US has withdrawn into itself, letting nothing in or out, not even information.

At the start of the book Kaaro has a job protecting a bank’s customers from the attentions of other sensitives out to steal their information. This is one of the hares Thompson sets running but never quite catches. There is the biodome itself, the appearance of a character known as Bicycle Girl or Oyin Da, and, in an apparent signal to a thriller subplot that never arrives, sensitives are dying. In the wider xenosphere, where reality is very distorted, Kaaro uses a gryphon as an avatar. Aminat’s brother, Layi, is kept chained in her flat to prevent him burning things using his own xenospheric power.

As can perhaps be gleaned from the previous paragraph there is too much going on in the novel which, as a result, fails to achieve focus. Thompson can undoubtedly write but hasn’t yet found the virtue of economy. Quite why Rosewater has been accorded the accolades it has is therefore a bit obscure.

Pedant’s corner:- “crimes perpetuated in the xenosphere” (crimes perpetrated,) “Ascomytes xenophericus” (elsewhere Ascomytes xenosphericus,) smoothes (smooths,) “amuses me to no end” (‘to no end’ means ‘without purpose’, ‘amuses me no end’ [‘no end’ = infinitely] was meant,) aircrafts “OK it was in dialogue but the plural of aircraft is aircraft.) “None of the people around me are harmed” (None …is harmed.) “None of them want to live in the refugee camps” (None of them wants to live….)

BSFA Award Novel List

I’ve now read three of the short-listed novels for this year’s BSFA Award.

I can’t say I’ve been too struck on any of them.

Gareth L Powell’s Embers of War did not appear to be anything out of the ordinary.

My thoughts on Before Mars by Emma Newman are here.

Dave Hutchinson’s Europe at Dawn was beautifully written but is the fourth in his Fractured Europe sequence and did not add substantially to the world(s) he has created.

I’ll not be reading the Yoon Ha Lee. I found his Nine Fox Gambit was not very good and put me off his fiction for life.

That leaves Tade Thompson’s Rosewater for which I probably don’t now have the time to resource or read. I gather also there is some doubt as to its eligibility as it was published on the Kindle in 2017 rather than 2018.

My reading of the short fiction has not progressed since the short list was announced (see first link in this post.) The usual BSFA booklet containing the stories has not yet arrived. I live in hope. In any case I doubt anything else will be better than Ian McDonald’s Time Was.

BSFA Awards 2017

BSFA Awards 2017 booklet cover

Short fiction nominees:-
The Enclave1 by Anne Charnock (NewCon Press, Feb 2017) is not obviously Science Fiction. Written well enough, it focuses on Caleb, a refugee seemingly from Spain but it could be further south, at a time when the world seems to have global warmed. It has some echoes of Oliver Twist as Caleb is variously exploited and learns to trust no-one. The titular enclave lies somewhere near Manchester.
In These Constellations Will Be Yours by Elaine Cuyegkeng (Strange Horizons, 7/8/17) oraculos from the planet Buyin have enabled much swifter interstellar travel at the cost of having their backs opened, spines, brains and nervous systems attached to the galleon-ships which ply the celestial sea. Some avoid this fate by paying to opt out. There is a revolt.
Uncanny Valley2 by Greg Egan (Tor.com, 9/8/17) is an extract only. The full text is available online but I dislike reading fiction from a screen so this one page sample had to do and was consequently hard to adjudge.
Angular Size3 by Geoff Nelder ( SFerics, 2017) is in the tradition of the big dumb object story, or, in this case, the maybe not quite so big as something the apparent size of the moon but only detectable in the visible range of the electromagnetic spectrum suddenly appears in the solar system. However it may be as small as a button but, more importantly, a precursor to alien invasion.
The Murders of Molly Southborne4 by Tade Thompson (Tor.com publishing) is also an extract, two pages this time; too short an extract to appraise properly.

In the non-fiction items the extract from Modern Masters of Science Fiction: Iain M Banksa by Paul Kincaid is mainly about Feersum Endjinn, Whit, A Song of Stone and Excession.
Juliet E McKenna’s The Myth of Meritocracy and the Reality of the Leaky Pipe and other Obstacles in Science Fiction and Fantasyb examines the ways in which women are undervalued in and marginalised from SF.
There is an extract from Wells at the World’s Endb by Adam Roberts in which he looks at The Invisible Man.
Various contributors consider The 2017 Shadow Clarke Awardsc.
The Unthinkability of Climate Change: Thoughts on Amitav Ghosh’s ‘The Great Derangement’d by Vandana Singh deals with the unwillingness of people to think about climate change.

Pedant’s corner (fiction):- 1focussed (focused,) sat (sitting,) “no sense of daring-do” (it’s derring-do.) 2a stationers (stationer’s.) 3”they might consider humanity are a scourge on the planet” (is a scourge,) miniscule (minuscule,) focussed (focused,) “‘The White House are having kittens’” (is having,) “‘take it Edwards’” (take it to Edwards,) “‘it’s slowing down but still heading for the Moon’” (unless it was very close to the Moon already, not in any trajectory I’ve ever heard of.) 4feces (faeces.)
(Non-fiction):- ain a passage about Banks’s prefiguring of txt spk, “duz she 1/2 a naim” (I read that as one/two, not ½,) rumor and center (in a British piece about a British writer! Rumour and centre, please.) bCandaules’ (Candaules’s, yet we have Wells’s and Griffins’s,) “to talk an individual caught up in … is to describes” (to talk of an individual… is to describe,) “as good as stopping photons” (as good at stopping.) b”which that presenting evidence” (which presenting that evidence,) practise (practice,) selfevidently (self evidently.) c”as a third wave of riots break out” (a wave breaks out.) dCO2 (CO2.)

BSFA Awards Booklet 2016

The End of Hope Street1 by Malcolm Devlin. First published in Interzone 266, Sep-Oct 2016.
This is told in a curiously flat style which seems devoid of any feeling. Without explanation – which makes this fantasy rather than SF – the houses in the cul-de-sac of Hope Street are one by one becoming unliveable, death to anyone inside or who enters thereafter. The survivors are taken in by their neighbours, but matter-of-factly, not compassionately. The end of hope may touch a nerve in these unenlightened times but it’s a depressing philosophy.

Liberty Bird2 by Jaime Fenn. First published in Now We Are Ten, edited by Ian Whates, NewCon Press, July 2016.
The bird of the title is a racing spaceyacht about to take part in a prestigious race and piloted by Kheo Reuthani, scion of an aristocratic house but homosexual in a society which frowns on that – and where some such aristocratic clans have seemingly managed to survive the removal of an Empress from power. The plot hinges on the fact of Kheo’s sexuality being known to his chief engineer. It’s depressing that such repression of sexuality has to be continually commented on. But the price of freedom is eternal vigilance.

Taking Flight by Una MacCormack. First published in Crisis and Conflicts, edited by Ian Whates, NewCon Press, July 2016.
On reading this I was reminded irresistibly of the style and tonal quality of many of Eric Brown’s SF stories. Our (unnamed) narrator having come to find little satisfaction in the bustle of life in the core worlds remembers an invitation by Eckhart, an acquaintance from her privileged youth in college, to visit him on far-flung backwater Wright’s World. Eckhart appears distracted and fretful but arranges for his friend to travel up-country where the scenery is magnificent, the experience of gliding, on drugs, sublime and the secret of Eckhart’s behaviour is revealed. Apart from a single phrase to do with the passage of time and a slightly weak ending this is pitched perfectly.

Presence3 by Helen Oyeyemi. First published in What is Not Yours is Not Yours, an anthology from Riverhead Books, March 2016.
Jill and Jacob, two psychiatrists married to each other – both not in their first marriage – agree to take part in an experiment to simulate the presences of deceased loved ones some people experience after their bereavement. Jill and Jacob are each to feel the presence of the other but an unexpected different presence intrudes. I found the experience of reading this was marred by no less than 17 unusual hyphenations (pur- pose, drop- ping,) in the middles of lines which may have been a hangover from true line-breaks in the original publication.

The Apologists4 by Tade Thompson. First published in Interzone 266, Sep-Oct 2016.
Somehow in taking over Earth the aliens didn’t realise it was inhabited. Only five humans survive but they don’t get on. They are kept alive and given work designing replacements for everything that was lost. Storm’s project is to design simulant humans, Katrina works on roads, buildings etc. But, as Storm says, “Humanity is defined by imperfections.”

Extract from The Arrival of Missives5 by Aliya Whiteley. First published by Unsung Stories, May 2016.
In the aftermath of the Great War Shirley Fearn conceives a passion for education and war-wounded Mr Tiller, her teacher. She goes to his house to speak to him about it and through the window witnesses something strange. This is well-written but unfortunately the BSFA booklet contains only an extract so it is difficult to assess.

In the non-fiction category, Paul Graham Raven’s essay New Model Authors? Authority, Authordom, Anarchism and the Atomized Text in a Networked World discusses an experimental piece of critical writing on Adam Roberts’s novel New Model Army which had appeared on the internet (and which he had uploaded to his clipping service) but which has now vanished – apparently without trace. Raven’s essay read to me as if it were a piece of fiction.

Pedant’s corner:- 1Lewis’ (Lewis’s,) the both of them (“both of them, or “the pair of them” not “the both of them”,) oblivious of (ignorant of was meant; oblivious means “unaware of”, not “unknowing”,) the community prided themselves (itself,) residents committee (residents’, x4) “there had been only few” (only a few,) “one of its residents found their way” (his, or her, way,) more-so (more so,) a sentence containing only subordinate clauses, may have (might have,) focussing (focusing,) “the neighbourhood fought to free themselves” (strictly, itself,) homeopathic (homoeopathic,) PIN number (PIN – the N already stands for number,) the chemists (the chemist’s.) 2miniscule (minuscule,) “Why were this mismatched pair meeting ..?” (Why was this pair meeting?) “a block of portholes have been elected” (a block has been selected,) seven year ago (years,) a lack of punctuation makes at least two sentences read oddly, publically (publicly,) forbad (forbade,) “‘But not every change is for the worst,’” (worse, I think that would be.) 3stood (standing,) focussed (focused,) four absences of paragraph breaks when a different person is speaking. 4none … yells (fine,) but none … mean anything (means,) none of us remember (remembers,) breathing heavy (heavily,) “I cannot move from the aches and pains” (for the aches and pains,) “I know there is such a thing as odourless solvents” (such things as,) whinging (I prefer whingeing) 5”Those from farming stock can possess…..if he is shown..” (those is plural, therefore, “if they are shown”,) smoothes (smooths,) “there are a handful” (is a handful,) Clemens’ (Clemens’s,) “which decorates the entire of his chest and stomach” (the entire? How about “the entirety” or “the whole”.)

Interzone 267 Sep-Oct 2016

TTA Press

Interzone 266 cover

The Editorial is by Martin McGrath and discusses the continuing importance of the James White Award, whose latest winner* is published in this issue, Jonathan McCalmont’s column1 bemoans the recent trend towards magical policemen solving crimes in old London town as having a reactionary effect while Nina Allan praises Scottish Science Fiction’s engagement with political themes. In the Book Zone I review Dave Hutchinson’s Winter in Europe and there are interviews with Tade Thompson and Chris Beckett.

Alts2 by Harmony Neal is a tale of humans genetically modified by StateCorp into a kind of slavery.
The narrator of Ryan Row’s Dogfights in Olympus and Other Absences3 is a mercenary pilot involved in a multi-party conflict over a planet called Olympus which has a desirable hyper potential energy dense matter core. The relativistic aspects of his 0.2 light year separation from his family affect the relationship.
The Hunger of Auntie Tiger by Sarah Brook is set on a planet where people of Chinese origin, left more or less to their own devices by “the Company” relive myths.
Rich Larson’s You Make Payata4 suggests there is really only a small number of tales that can be written as this one of an attempted scam has a familiar template but is nevertheless well executed and full of Science-fictional gloss.
*Rock, Paper, Scissors5 by David Cleden literalises the game alluded to in its title vinto a contest between the bodily-transformed representatives of two tribes for the annual rights to the hunting grounds.
In My Generations Shall Praise6 by Samantha Henderson a woman on death row is persuaded to have her mind overwritten so that someone else can use her body.

Pedant’s corner:- 1Morris’ (Morris’s,) use of they and them as pronouns for an individual. 2Written in USian. “She wasn’t sure the exact details of his alteration” (of the exact details,) “everyone holding their breath (their; so breaths,) sunk (sank.) 3 Written in USian. “Curealian and silver beams” (Cerulean?) “where his family makes their home” (“makes” is the singular; so “makes its home”,) “above him the naked stars lay out in the dark” (lie out; the narration is present tense,) dying her hair (dyeing.) 4 Written in USian, pretenses (pretences,) “‘when you get the hotel’” (to the hotel,) florescent (is this USian? – fluorescent.) A collection were (a collection was.) 5mold (mould,) vocal chords x 2 (cords,) “growing soft and downy my back” (on my back?) “the Tribe grow quiet” (grows; several more instances of Tribe as plural,) “‘Your foe will keep their distance’” (his distance; his is used later,) “‘when they tire’” (when he tires,) “‘though they beg you’” (though he begs you,) the attack is borne of frustration (born of.) 6Written in USian. “‘Will they let her in short notice?’” (At short notice? On short notice? With short notice?)

Interzone 266 Sep-Oct 2016

TTA Press

Interzone 266 cover

Stephen Theaker’s Editorial muses on awards; their disadvantages and their necessity. Jonathan McCalmont’s column1 discusses Emma Geen’s The Many Selves of Katharine North favourably while Nina Allan reflects on the connections between classical and folk music on the one hand and the weird/faery on the other.
In the Book Zone I review Alastair Reynolds’s Revenger (recommended.) Also gaining approval are Paul Kearney’s The Wolf in the Attic (even if it does require a sequel,) Peter S Beagle’s Summerlong and Gaie Sebold’s Sparrow Falling.
In the fiction, Tade Thompson’s The Apologists is set in the aftermath of an invasion of Earth by aliens who hadn’t realised it was inhabited. Discovering their oversight, they keep six remnants alive on a simulated world.
Extraterrestrial Folk Metal Fusion2 by Georgina Bruce is a tongue-in-cheek tale of the discovery of a signal from outer space which is soon parlayed into opportunities for profit, either personal or monetary.
Narrated by the best friend of the test pilot (who tells him what happened in a disturbing first flight) Ray Cluley’s Sideways3 is an excellent, affecting story about a 1950s rocket propelled prototype craft that can go sideways. That word is deployed strategically throughout the story to underline its strangeness.
In Three Love Letters From an Unrepeatable Garden by Aliva Whiteley the titular letters are to the lover of a gardener protecting a unique but dying flower.
One by one in The End of Hope Street4 by Malcolm Devlin, the houses in the street become unliveable. If you are in them when they do then you die. A tale of neighbourliness in adversity but told in an oddly distanced way.

Pedant’s corner:- 1octopi (it’s not Latin!! The Greek plural is octopodes but octopuses is perfectly good English,) the real meat… lays in (lies in.) 2maw (it was a black hole so I suppose could be interpreted as a stomach.) 3sliver mirror (silver,) 4he was stuck with a … sense of horror (struck?) inside of (inside x2; ditto outside of,) the community prided themselves (itself,) there had been only few major incidents (there had been few, or, only a few,) everyone was on their feet (was, so everyone is singular; so how then, their feet? Avoid such a construction,) the neighbourhood fought to free themselves (ditto, neighbourhood is singular,) to examine it closer (more closely.)

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