"Rosewater" is a startlingly original piece of Science Fiction, set in Nigeria in 2066.
It's been a long time since I've encountered a powerful new voice in Science Fiction that combines new ideas with a distinctive storytelling style.
Tade Thompson takes a fresh look at the concept of alien invasion and how people in Nigeria would react to it.
His aliens are genuinely alien in how they think and behave. The concept of an alien-generated Xenosphere that enhances the ability of some humans in an almost supernatural way is original and intriguing. The society reacting to the aliens seems to be a plausible extrapolation of modern-day Nigeria.
Reading "Rosewater" reminded me of reading William Gibson's "Neuromancer" for the first time, way back in the nineteen-eighties: the excitement of finding and immersing myself in something so fresh it was overwhelming, something that subtly subverted traditional science fiction views on everything from what heroes do through to how people and technology interact; something which, while being innovative and strange seemed rooted in an understanding of how the world really works on a day to day basis.
Tade Thompson's Xenosphere is as revolutionary as Gibson's Cyberspace. His hero is not a hero at, just a man trying to stay alive and make sense of his gifts. His world is venal, violent and vigorous. It's a wonderful mix.
The non-linear storytelling moves effortlessly back and forth along the timeline, carrying current events forward at a pace while slowly revealing the past that shaped the main character.
Much of the strength of the book comes from the main character, an uneducated man, with a violent past, slowly losing his taste for the fleshly pleasures that drove his younger self, he has a distinctive thinking style, at once reflective and pragmatic. Here's an example of how he describes suddenly becoming aware that he knows something:
It is a certainty, not just a conviction, the way believing in God is a conviction, but believing in gravity is a certainty .
This is a book that is packed with ideas and violence in almost equal measure. It's about realism and struggle rather than optimism and escape.
I think Tade Thompson is a talent to watch in SF in general and in the current wave of Future Africa Fiction in particular. I'll be checking out the rest of his work.