Review: COIL by Ren Warom

Book Reviews

One of my reading goals this year is to read more noir. Another is to read more small press releases. And COIL by Ren Warom is a science fiction detective thriller that satisfies both these needs. A gritty, futuristic murder mystery spattered with copious amounts of biopunk body horror, Coil isn’t a book for the squeamish, but if you like stories with gritty characters and settings featuring criminal gangs warring with corrupt and bureaucratic law enforcement agencies then BOY do I have a recommendation for you!

What I loved about Coil was Warom’s ability to take a simple, yet solid, foundation of noir tropes and build a rich and complex world on top of it. The whole story takes place in The Spires, a mega-city that has emerged from the ruins of Detroit following some kind of cataclysmic event in the history of the book’s world. In the Spires, numerous criminal gangs have taken control of sectors of the city and largely operate with the tacit approval of a police force which is powerless to confront them. With drastic technological change and the inevitable culture shift that accompanied it, this is a world where humans have merged with machines and body modification is ubiquitous, to the extent that to be a human without body mods is considered altogether weird – abnormal.

And in this world we meet Bone Adams. Bone is a legend, the best mortician in the Spires, and a man without modification in a world where body mods define humanity. When a new killer begins leaving bodies stripped of mods but twisted and bent into grotesque pieces of art, City Officer Stark tasks Bone to unravel the clues, few though they may be. In Warom’s world, morticians have become much more than simple undertakers. In a world littered with the bodies of gangland murders, where large sections of the population seek out illegal body modifications and technological implants from surgeons who owe allegiance to criminal gangs, often the only way to identify a corpse is through tracing the modification trail. Morticians are detectives and diplomats required to have one foot in the shady criminal underworld without falling foul of either the gangs or the police.

We get to follow Bone as he navigates the seedy underbelly of the Spires, as he and City Officer Stark attempt to unravel the clues they uncover about the mysterious killer. These are our two main viewpoint characters and Warom does a great job of taking the grizzled, alcoholic rogues of pulp noir and fleshing them out into characters you can really root for, even if they are difficult, frustrating SOB’s sometimes. And what is pulp noir without a femme fatale? Coil has such a good femme fatale. I can’t expand much without getting into spoiler territory but holy shit I need you to read this book, if not for the sole reason I need someone to talk about this with!

I’m not very practised at reading mysteries and thrillers where you can follow the clues and work out what’s going on yourself if you’re clever, so I never saw the ending coming, but in retrospect there’s some really top notch foreshadowing. Coil is one of those books where I kind of want to read it again just so I can pick up on all the hints and clues Warom drops throughout the story. I recently saw the film Knives Out, and so much of the joy of that film (and there was much joy to be had about it) was trying to pick up on the clues as the story progressed. Coil is much the same and I’m absolutely hankering for more mystery fiction right now.

All told, Coil is a great book and has me interested in reading Ren Warom’s back catalogue, which features some very interesting-sounding stories, including some good ol’ cyberpunk in ESCAPOLOGY about a data thief hired to hack into a corporate databank – absolutely my jam all over.

Go read Coil. Definite recommend from me.

Review: THE ROSEWATER REDEMPTION by Tade Thompson

Book Reviews

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
LOVED IT

***Spoilers ahead for the first two Wormwood books – read the reviews of ROSEWATER and THE ROSEWATER INSURRECTION here***

A spectacular conclusion to the genre-blending Wormwood trilogy from one of the most imaginative writers in SFF today. The story of Rosewater is one of insidious alien invasion, self-serving humanity, powerful interest groups, and running through it all the subtle optimism that imperfect, even cynical people can do good things while making mistakes along the way.

There are multiple story threads running through REDEMPTION. The violence and upheaval that accompanied Rosewater’s secession from Nigeria and the conflict with the cherubim has died down, but the aftereffects are causing a headache for Jack Jacques. A militant group of Homians have begun murdering humans to accelerate the takeover of their reanimated bodies. Aminat has been appointed Rosewater’s head of security and struggles with her own conscience about which side to take in the escalating conflict with the Homians. We get to follow Oyin Da as she manipulates the xenosphere to travel through time and uncover the mysteries of Wormwood’s past. Kaaro takes centre stage again. And amidst all this Femi still has her own agenda…

There’s actually even more going on than I have space to mention. Society-altering court cases, gang warfare, mongoose fights! REDEMPTION is packed full of so much plot, setting and character I can’t even fathom how Tade kept it all straight in his head. And yes there’s a lot going on, but I never felt overwhelmed, just in awe of how alive everything about this book felt.

Tade Thompson really has created something special. The people in this book are real. Rosewater is a vibrant, dynamic city. The society it has haphazardly thrown up is alive, evolving and no matter how weird things get (and things get weird) it all somehow remains all too plausible.

In my review of the previous books, I wrote that the Wormwood series presents us with a pessimistic view of humanity and, while I still think that’s partly true, I’ve realised these books are far more than that. They present a complex view of humanity.

Good people make mistakes. Bad, self-serving people have layers of compassion. And these contradictions are never static. Every character is changed by their experiences, resulting in a mess of conflicting emotions, relationships and motivations that make them all so human. This nuance is explored so fully across the span of these novels that I challenge anyone not to identify with at least some aspect of every character that Tade Thompson has so masterfully brought to life. It’s particularly clever how Tade structures the narrative throughout the series, variously pitching Wormwood and the Homians as potential allies or villains depending on whose perspective the story is being told from and the pragmatic necessities of the shifting power relations between the various people, factions and interest groups.

I admit to reading the first half of the book and thinking it wasn’t quite reaching the heights of the previous books, mainly because, despite an explosive beginning, the plot didn’t seem to be driving forward as much as I had become accustomed to in this series. Taken as a whole however, I fully appreciate that section of the story, even if it did seem to meander more than was necessary at the time. Despite this, the second half of the book takes the series to new heights and I’m feeling so many emotions right now just re-living how this book soars to its phenomenal conclusion.

Overall this was a rewarding, immensely satisfying and at times gut-wrenching ending to what has quickly become one of my favourite science fiction series of all time. I never expected Kaaro to be the kind of character with the emotional capacity to make me tear up, but here we are. If you haven’t already, please please please read these books!

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Hey! Watcha Readin’: 23/10/19

Updates

Hi folks, thanks for stopping by for another weekly check-in. As ever I’ll be using WWW Wednesday, hosted by Taking on a World of Words, to chat about my week in books. If you want to take part just answer the three questions below 🙂

What did you recently finish reading?
What are you currently reading?
What will you read next?

Recently Finished: FAHRENHEIT 451 by Ray Bradbury
I didn’t actually know all that much about this book before reading it, despite it being a classic of dystopian fiction. Usually these types of books seep into public consciousness through cultural osmosis alone (everyone knows what 1984 is about even if they haven’t read it) but for whatever reason this one hadn’t taken root with me. It turned out to be about a future society where books are banned and the government employs an oppressive organisation of ‘firemen’ to burn down the houses of anyone found to be reading, along with their literary collection. It was a decent read; Bradbury’s prose is nice and he does a good job of making the reader feel the claustrophobia imposed by the authoritarian setting. I thought the character development was a bit lacking and the overall tone was quite elitist; professors and academics were the only ones still interested in reading books while the easily-distracted masses sat around watching soap operas. Even then all the elites cared about was preserving Aristotle and Walt Whitman.

Currently Reading: THE ROSEWATER REDEMPTION by Tade Thompson
This is the conclusion to Tade Thompson’s Wormwood trilogy and if you follow me on Twitter or have read my blog before, you’ll know how much I adore this series. Aliens and spies. Zombies and crazy biotechnology. All that great stuff. The first book blew me away and remains one of the best science fiction novels I’ve read in years. The sequel was also fantastic so I’m sad to say I’ve found the first half of THE ROSEWATER REDEMPTION lacks the same spark and energy of the previous two books. It’s still enjoyable, it just feels a bit rushed so far. Thankfully, the second half seems to be picking up so I hope I can say it finishes with a bang!

Next Read: STEEL CROW SAGA by Paul Krueger
Okay I can’t wait any longer. I’d originally planned to re-read the entire His Dark Materials trilogy before the TV series release, but I’m putting that on hold because I need to read this book. Anything billed as Pokemon meets Avatar: The Last Airbender is something I was never going to put off for long and Paul Krueger is being buried in a fervent heap of praise everywhere I look. I don’t know too much about the story other than it follows a band of misfits thrown together to find a mystery killer who defies the laws of magic in a world where ’empire is won with enchanted steel and magical animal companions fight alongside their masters in battle’.

Yesssss!

That’s what I’ve got planned this week. What are you folks reading?

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Hey! Watcha Readin’: 16/10/19

Updates

Hey everyone and thanks for stopping by for another weekly catch up 🙂 I’ll be using WWW Wednesday hosted by Taking on a World of Words. And hey, get involved! Answer the three questions below and let me know what you’re reading this week.

What did you recently finish reading?
What are you currently reading?
What will you read next?

Recently Finished: PET SEMATARY by Stephen King and SWORD OF DESTINY by Andrzej Sapkowski
PET SEMATARY was my October horror read and my second Stephen King book. I’m still a newb to horror literature though so it was interesting to see how differently it’s written compared to other speculative fiction. A lot of the dramatic tension in sci-fi and fantasy comes from not knowing how things are going to turn out but here King practically signposts the ending of the story the whole way through and the tension builds from the experience of being drawn into that inevitable conclusion. I enjoyed PET SEMATARY, even if it didn’t particularly blow my mind. SWORD OF DESTINY, on the other hand, was a difficult read. I slogged through it but my god, Sapkowski has women issues. The man is obsessed with tits. If you follow me on Twitter you’ll have seen me posting some of the more cringey excerpts from this book. I am going to continue with this series, simply because although this was the second instalment chronologically it was the first to be released and I thought the second book he wrote was a bit better. I’m giving Sapkowski the benefit of the doubt here and hoping the next one is a decent read.

Currently Reading: FAHRENHEIT 451 by Ray Bradbury
This is one of those ‘classic’ books that’s been on my TBR for years and I picked it up in a Kindle sale a few months ago. From what I know about FAHRENHEIT 451 it’s a classic dystopia in the vein of Brave New World and 1984 that tells the story of a future society where books have been made illegal and firemen are employed to burn literature and the houses of those who dare to still read them. Unfortunately for me I started a new job this week and haven’t got much reading done yet. I literally read about ten pages last night before I got too sleepy to continue so not much to report yet.

Next Read: THE ROSEWATER REDEMPTION by Tade Thompson
I’ve been excited for this release ever since reading the first two books in the Wormwood series! This is some seriously good effing sci-fi everybody. Aliens. Pseudo-zombies. Biopunk noir spy thrills. It’s got everything and Tade weaves it all together masterfully. Just go read my reviews of ROSEWATER and THE ROSEWATER INSURRECTION and see for yourself how much it’s possible for one man to gush about a book.

That’s what I’ve got planned this week.
What are you folks reading?

Have you read any of the books I’ve mentioned?
Get involved with WWW Wednesday either on your own blog or in the comments!

Review: THE ROSEWATER INSURRECTION by Tade Thompson

Book Reviews

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
LOVED IT

***Spoilers for the first ROSEWATER book ahead – read the review here***

After the startling revelations of the previous book, the city of Rosewater is a powder keg ready to blow. Whereas ROSEWATER was told from a very tight first person perspective, INSURRECTION is told from multiple points of view, and that’s a great stylistic choice because shit gets blown wide open in this second book.

There’s no main character per se and I’d argue we’re actually following the turbulent story of the city of Rosewater itself, as seen through the eyes of some of its most important citizens. The story opens prior to the events of the previous book with a new POV character, a sensitive called Eric who is sent to assassinate Jack Jacques, a prominent politician in the newly-emerging city of Rosewater. Jacques was mentioned in the first book but is one of the main POV characters in the sequel and it’s through him that we get to witness the ever-increasing political instability of the city.

This was one of the most interesting themes of INSURRECTION for me. The Wormwood trilogy doesn’t present an optimistic picture of humanity and alien contact sparks more tension and conflict among humanity than it does direct confrontation with the alien itself. The takeaway perhaps being ‘What hope do we have for co-existing with extraterrestrials if we can’t even coexist among ourselves?’

Similarly, the aliens themselves are far from united and this is another aspect of Tade’s worldbuilding I love. Too often in science fiction we’re presented with homogenous alien races that display no individuality or even cultural and linguistic differences among themselves.

Not so here.

The conflict between Anthony and Molara from the previous book is still present and while the humans begin to fight among themselves, sentient alien flora begins to attack Wormwood, sparking a conflict between the different alien bioforms as well. These two parallel conflicts cause chaos in Rosewater and there are some exhilarating action scenes that raise the stakes but also double down by developing character and setting at the same time.

I’m very happy to say that Aminat, Kaaro’s girlfriend who was revealed to be an S45 field agent in the previous book, is also one of the POV characters. Despite not being front and centre in the first book, Aminat was a great character with hidden depth and Kaaro was overtly knocked down a peg or two when Femi told him that “Aminat has her own story; she is not a supporting character in yours”. Here we get to witness that story first hand when Femi assigns her to track down a woman with an abnormally high proportion of alien cells in her body.

Despite taking an active part in the escalating conflict though, Femi herself isn’t a POV character and this is another great decision by Tade. By denying us direct insight into her motivations and forcing us to rely on how she is perceived by others, Femi remains one of the most intriguing characters in the story and I constantly found myself wanting to know what she was up to and flip-flopping between rooting for her and disapproving of her actions.

I often find the mark of a good middle trilogy book is the author’s ability to crank up the stakes and not let the story sag. Tade does this well and the story is engaging at every turn but at the same time I don’t think INSURRECTION quite reaches the heights of ROSEWATER. Don’t take that as anything like serious criticism though because I still thought this was a bloody excellent book, I just felt that it perhaps wasn’t as tightly plotted as its predecessor. It’s definitely easier to follow as there’s much less jumping around in time and actively piecing things together as the story unfolds, but I thought that complexity was part of what made the first book so compelling. Having said that it’s like comparing apples to tea bags because INSURRECTION is telling a different kind of story and the stylistic choice absolutely works.

If you enjoyed the first book I think there’s an overwhelming chance you’ll love INSURRECTION as well. It gives us more of the stuff we loved and builds on it to expand the world of Rosewater with that signature imaginative weirdness Tade showed when he first set the science fiction genre alight with this series.

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Review: ROSEWATER by Tade Thompson

Book Reviews

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
LOVED IT

ROSEWATER is incredible. It’s a near-future biopunk sci-fi novel set in Nigeria featuring aliens, biotechnology, scientifically plausible telepaths, reanimated corpses, shady government agencies and a gritty underworld reminiscent of William Gibson’s best work. There’s a lot going on in this book and I’m so excited about all of it that it’s hard to know where to start, so I’ll lead with the big picture.

Rosewater is a Nigerian city that has grown up around the edges of an alien biodome that periodically emits a mysterious healing energy. Consequently, it’s developed into a gritty hybrid of Mecca and Lourdes, a beacon for the sick, a ramshackle, unplanned society with a teeming criminal underworld and a hive of activity for secretive organisations that want to control it.

We see the story through the eyes of Kaaro, a powerful ‘sensitive’ with a rare ability to access the xenosphere, a pseudo-psychic realm seeded by alien biotech where sensitives can access and manipulate the thoughts and perceptions of others. He works for S45, a secretive government agency involved in telepathic interrogation and counter-terrorism. Kaaro is a fascinating character, if not particularly likeable, and I was intrigued by his (justifiably) cynical take on how the world responds to alien contact.

The story is an eclectic mix of biopunk noir spy thriller, alien invasion, murder mystery and zombie horror and Tade weaves these disparate elements together masterfully in a non-linear structure that isn’t always easy to follow, but makes for an incredibly rewarding reading experience. The ‘main’ storyline takes place in 2066 and follows Kaaro as he tries to uncover the mystery of why his fellow sensitives are dying or, as he suspects, being killed off. This is interspersed with flashback chapters that slowly unravel Kaaro’s criminal past, his recruitment by S45 and development as a sensitive, along with his formative encounter with Bicycle Girl, the revolutionary activist he was tasked with hunting down.

This type of structure is difficult to pull off, but Tade nails it. It’s a masterclass in character development and worldbuilding, giving us just enough information at exactly the right moments while constantly raising more questions that compel you to carry on reading. Nothing is over-explained and there’s a stylistic similarity with Willam Gibson in that Tade throws you in at the deep end and just expects you to keep up, which makes for a thrilling and revelatory ride.

There’s also a definite Gibson-esque vibe to the society that has developed in Rosewater and as a huge Gibson fan I enjoyed this immensely. One of my favourite pieces of worldbuilding in the book were ‘the reconstructed’, humans who deliberately injure themselves in the hope of being healed in ways that biologically enhance their bodies. One character is described as having ‘latched hawk wings to cuts in his back and the xenoforms smoothed it over, probably built muscle and blood vessels to make it work’. This reminded me of the quote from Burning Chrome where Automatic Jack asserts that ‘the street finds its own uses for things’, which went on to form a central pillar of cyberpunk fiction. We don’t get much screen time with him, but one of my favourite characters was Bad Fish, an underground biohacker who does an incredible amount to organically flesh out that ‘street’ world of Lagos in 2066.

“Bad Fish fiddles with a machine. He works in a Celestial Church white robe. Olusosun used to host a thriving market with a tiny rubbish dump beside it. The dump grew and the market failed. As it covered a larger area, scavengers moved in – a growing local economy. The tech scavengers can be seen everywhere in Africa, picking bits and bobs of retrieved technology and repurposing laptops and implants, performing identity hacks, building illegal new configurations of what already exists.”

The rest of the characters are incredibly well developed as well. Femi, Kaaro’s boss at S45 is a force of nature and Aminat, with whom he has a somewhat unconventional romantic relationship, is more than she seems and Kaaro is explicitly told at one point that she “has her own story; she is not a supporting character in yours”. More mystery.

Another thing I want to note my appreciation for are the smatterings of cultural references and snippets of Nigerian history that Tade weaves into the story. There are western references ranging from Watchmen and The Dead Zone to Shakespeare and Walt Whitman, which felt like little Easter eggs every time I noticed one. I’m certain there are more that I missed and it makes me want to re-read the book again for that reason alone. More interestingly though, there are also references to Yoruba culture and snippets of Nigerian history, such as the Yoruba naming traditions (twins are often named Taiwo and Kehinde among Yoruba people) and Femi’s possession of a gun used by the Oyenusi gang in their 1972 crime spree.

I genuinely think ROSEWATER breaks new ground and Tade Thompson is at the cutting edge of science fiction right now. It’s certainly the best alien invasion book since The Three Body Problem, though I wouldn’t compare them in any other way, as this is a unique story that has blown the whole genre wide open. Tade Thompson has, without doubt, established himself as a giant of modern science fiction and I can’t wait to see where he goes next with this series.

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