ROSEWATER: A XENO-FORTEAN FICTION

I have just finished reading ROSEWATER, an excellent science fiction novel written by Tade Thompson, published last year. It is a compelling read, and I highly recommend it.

In a near future (2066) a mysterious “biodome” of alien origin occupies the center of the city of Rosewater in Nigeria, a space which none can enter. Once a year a small opening or “pore” appears and people in proximity around it are healed of their illnesses (good, usually) or “reconstructed” along other lines (bad, usually). Mysteries, espionage, secrets, violence, virtual alien sex and human love, angelic and god-like extraterrestrials, fungal infected human telepaths quantum accessing the noosphere composed of all sentients’ thoughts and thought forms.

ROSEWATER synthesises many different sf influences and ideas, combining a weird sff treatment of an alien ecological-based invasion with a post-post-cyberpunk near future setting. The two recent novels that I would compare ROSEWATER to are SWEET DREAMS by Tricia Sullivan, and ANNIHILATION by Jeff VanderMeer.

ROSEWATER reads like a (provisionally, as there will be a sequel) eucatastrophic version of ANNIHILATION, told in a seemingly more straightforward style that manages to attain the same degree of complexity.

The “xenosphere” (or thought-world) in ROSEWATER recalls the use that SWEET DREAMS makes of what one could call the “oneirosphere” (a term not used in the book), a virtual world composed out of the cybernetically assisted dreams of an increasingly plugged-in humanity.

In both cases humans begin to have access to a virtual realm that makes ordinary virtual reality seem like a manipulative caricature.

Narratively, the chapters alternate between the protagonist Kaaro’s nascent discovery of his abilities to draw on the thoughts of others to find objects, and to avoid detection as he launches into a life of theft, is caught, survives to be mentored, and trained to be a secret government operative. Most of the action on this thread takes place in 2055. The “now” of the narration is 2066, and someone or some force is killing the telepathic “sensitives” like Kaaros. His struggle for survival and his effort to learn what is happening and why make up the bulk of this second thread.

Thematically, the novel is more complex than it may seem at first. The themes of anxiety, uncertainty, duplicity, identity and alterity, morality and responsibility, wonder and trust are omnipresent. The story is one of individuation as the protagonist Kaaro progresses from cynicism, an amoral thief devoid of empathy, to engagement and a limited form of altruism.

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