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Tade Thompson’s debut novel, published in the US in 2016, is brilliant science fiction, at the cutting edge of contemporary genre.
The setting is Africa, 2066, in the aftermath of a global alien visitation that has swallowed the whole of London and rendered America “dark”. The aliens – whatever they are – don’t really interact with humanity, although they have released microscopic fungal spores into the air to create a “xenosphere”, a shared telepathic space accessible by a select group of human psychics called “sensitives”.
Thompson’s story is built around one particularly Tarkovskian oddity: a vast, impenetrable alien dome in rural Nigeria around which a ring-shaped human city, the titular Rosewater, has grown up. Once a year an aperture opens in the side of this dome and all sick people in the vicinity are healed – sometimes perfectly cured, sometimes remade in unusual ways. Even the dead are raised (though as soulless zombies). The place has become a mecca for the world’s unwell and the city has developed to cater for them.
The novel’s narrator, Kaaro, is an unusually gifted “sensitive” recruited from his life as a thief and scammer for an elite group of secret government agents who telepathically interrogate suspects and generally fight terrorism. But a mysterious sickness is killing off the sensitives one by one.
There’s a lot going on in this novel, but Thompson expertly juggles all his disparate elements – alien encounter, cyberpunk-biopunk-Afropunk thriller, zombie-shocker, an off-kilter love story and an atmospheric portrait of a futuristic Nigeria. The book is sharply plotted and well written, with Kaaro’s narration achieving a sort of louche, disengaged charm that throws the story’s many weirdnesses into nice relief.
A quarter of a century ago, African science fiction was a rarity, its writers tending towards the magical and supernatural rather than the quasi-scientific. That’s all changed now. Black Panther is one of the world’s all-time top-grossing movies, and from Egypt to South Africa, exciting new SF is everywhere, with writers of Nigerian heritage making a particular splash: most notably Deji Bryce Olukotun and Hugo-winner Nnedi Okorafor. With this stellar debut, Thompson takes his rightful place in this company.
• Adam Roberts’s The Real-Town Murders is published by Gollancz.
Rosewater is published by Orbit. To order a copy for £7.73 (RRP £8.99) go to guardianbookshop.com or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over £10, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of £1.99.
Source: The Guardian
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