Why blog tours are bullshit and I won’t do them anymore

Updates

EDIT: A point has been raised with me about the original introductory paragraph that I entirely agree with. It named a specific book which, in addition to potentially making things uncomfortable for the author, also made it very easy to identify a particular blog tour organiser, who have been seen as the specific target of the points I make in this post. I want to make it crystal clear that, while I stand by the points I’ve made, this is in no way a personal or targeted attack on any one blog tour organiser. In that spirit, I’ve deleted the introductory paragraph. Everything else remains the same.

For anyone who doesn’t know about blog tours, they’re basically publicity events for books where a bunch of reviewers and bloggers review and blog about the book over the course of, say, a week. They can be organised by the author, a publicist or a third party. Usually the participants get a free copy of the book to read and review. Seems fine right? Not all that different from getting a free copy from NetGalley or the publisher in exchange for a review? Nah man, blog tours are bullshit, and here’s why.

For starters, it’s pretty standard practice for most blog tours to have a policy of no negative reviews during the tour. Not only that, but if you didn’t like the book, you’re still usually asked to promote it regardless, by spotlighting it and posting an excerpt. This is how I came to be required to promote a book I didn’t like. And I mean look, that’s all well and good right, I recognise that taste is subjective and a book I didn’t get along with might be someone else’s five star book of the year, so I have no problem talking about books that weren’t my cup of tea. Hell, in past reviews I’ve said stuff like “this didn’t work for me, but if you’re a fan of this trope/writing style/type of humour etc then you’d probably enjoy this book.” The problem for me arises when I have to uncritically promote it and mask the fact I didn’t like it. Besides the intellectual dishonesty wound up in that it also just seems obvious, on a practical level, that discerning readers will pick up on the fact that excerpt is just code for bad book anyway, especially if the excerpts are continuously followed by negative reviews the following week.

And hey, this just sounds like my own personal discomfort with blog tours. And of course that’s true, this is just my opinion, and many other bloggers and reviewers out there won’t share my views and be more than happy to spotlight books and hold off on (or never even write) negative reviews. I still think that’s perfectly legitimate stance. However, I do think if that’s the position you’re going to take then you owe it to the readers to think about why you’re happy to carry on doing that. Because this is where my big gripe with blog tours surfaces. While I’m more than enthusiastic to shout from the rooftops about great books and get the word out about the authors I love, I never lose sight of the fact that fundamentally reviews are for readers. And if we’re honest about it, blog tours are for authors. They’re for authors to drum up positive reviews, and only positive reviews, that leave the reader with a warped and frankly, inaccurate reception of the book. Given that blog tours are often organised to promote new books with very few (if any) other reviews to balance this out, that leaves the reader, who the review is supposedly intended for, in a very shitty, uninformed position. As a side note to this, I actually think some negative reviews are a good thing for authors. No book is universally loved. Even the most critically acclaimed best-sellers have their detractors and one star reviews. So if I see a small title with twenty ratings, and those ratings are all five stars, I wouldn’t trust that book not to keep my change. The positive reviews become meaningless. Whereas if most people enjoyed it, but there’s some people in there saying it didn’t work for them, it actually lends a degree of authenticity to the book’s reception.

The other (and I think most insidious) thing I want to talk about is money. Payment. Publicists and blog tour companies are usually being paid to organise these things. And they don’t let you write negative reviews. Think about that. Most people would consider it reprehensible for an author to pay a blogger directly and say they could only write a positive review. Yet this is precisely what is happening, albeit with the insertion of a middleman in the form of a publicist or blog tour company that masks the transaction. And it gets worse! I’ve actually seen the organisers of blog tours – the individuals receiving payment – reviewing the book themselves. And shock fucking horror, they’re always positive and very often five stars. That’s messed up.

I took part in two blog tours before I came to the conclusion the whole ecosystem is a corrupt mess that subverts the purpose of reviews. I remember signing up for the first one and very quickly getting anxious about what to do if I didn’t like the book. As it turned out, I enjoyed the first one, which allowed me to sweep the problem under the rug and not think about it for a while. I couldn’t do this the second time round, when I had such a negative opinion of the book. When I talked about this, a few fellow bloggers got in touch to tell me about similar experiences they’ve had. Some went so far as pulling out of tours altogether because they didn’t feel comfortable promoting a book they didn’t like. That’s always an option, but for me there’s a couple of problems with that approach. The first is simply a matter of professionalism. When I signed up to those blog tours I made an agreement right? And the rules of that agreement stated that if I didn’t like the book I was still expected to promote it. To wait and see if I like the book before deciding whether to uphold my side of the agreement just doesn’t seem right. The second, most fundamental problem is that by participating in it and continuing to review books when I do like them and just withdrawing when I don’t, I’d still be propping up an ecosystem awash with the other faults and issues I’ve already highlighted. Either way, the practise goes on and I’m doing nothing to challenge it, even offering my tacit approval. And I’m not willing to do that.

If you’re a reader who’s followed blog tours and never considered this angle before, I honestly think you’d be better off avoiding them; they don’t serve you well. If you’re a blogger considering being part of a blog tour in future, just give some thought to what I’ve said. If you do that and still think I’m wrong, I’m always open to a good faith chat 🙂 Peace out bookwyrms.


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Review: LIGHT OF IMPOSSIBLE STARS by Gareth L. Powell

Book Reviews

Sal, Trouble Dog and the gang are back for the final instalment of one of my fave space opera series of all time! LIGHT OF IMPOSSIBLE STARS delivers everything I’ve come to love about Gareth Powell’s writing; literary characters in a pulp setting, snappy dialogue and deep themes delivered in tight, fast-paced prose. Plus Alien references, an AI in a clown costume, Dutch cyborgs and motherfucking reality quakes! I devoured this book in a single day, delighted in every second of it and now I just need more, always more.

***Warning*** Minor spoilers for the previous books in the series. If you haven’t read them yet, oh boy you’re in for a treat. Read my reviews for EMBERS OF WAR and FLEET OF KNIVES, then just go buy this entire series.

Light of Impossible Stars picks up where Fleet left off; Captain Sal Constanz and her sentient rescue ship Trouble Dog are running out of fuel, hunted by Ona Sudak and her genocidal fleet, and speeding towards The Intrusion, an area of space both the Marble Armada and the extra-dimensional Scourers mysteriously avoid. Probably because the laws of physics turn to mush here and no one knows why. I mean, if the only safe place in the galaxy is a place no one has ever returned from and experiences reality quakes on a semi-regular basis, you get an idea of just how Up Shit Creek Without A Paddle our plucky space adventurers really are.

We also get to meet some new characters. Cordelia Pa is a young scavenger on The Plates, a series of manufactured habitable micro-worlds constructed and abandoned by the Hearthers, the alien race who unwittingly unleashed the Marble Armada and fled to The Intrusion millennia ago. Cordelia and her brother eke out a miserable living scavenging for ancient Hearther artefacts and shifting them on the black market, all the while trying to avoid the authoritarian private mercenary police that patrol City Plate Two. But when Cordelia is snatched from her home by a strange crew lead by a woman called Lomax, Cordelia begins a journey that she hopes will explain the affinity she feels with Hearther tech and the strange powers she has always harboured.

From a story-telling standpoint, Gareth Powell knows how to spin a yarn that gets its hooks straight in, no messing about. Space opera is a genre suited to fast-paced adventure and Gareth has distilled this art into a science. He writes in a way that pisses you off if you get hungry or have to go to the loo cos it means you have to put the book down. I was halfway through Light of Impossible Stars before I knew what had happened and only realised cos my stomach started screaming at me to eat something.

What I love more than anything about this series though is the characters. The character development is simply phenomenal. Sal started out as a military woman with a conscience torn to shreds by war, seeking some kind of redemption in the House of Reclamation. She wanted to save people, without any complicated moral considerations, despite knowing deep down that sometimes it might be necessary to break a few eggs to make an omelette. One of my favourite scenes in the book is when Sal reflects on how she’s been forced to change yet again in the aftermath of the new order imposed by the Marble Armada. Puts me in mind of my boy Karl Marx’s most insightful observation on the development of society: “Men make history, but not in circumstances of their own choosing”. People have effects on the world around them and the world around them affects them right back. Sal has definitely changed since the start of the series, though everything she did made sense, both from a narrative standpoint and from what we know of her as a person. She’s changed, but still retained the core of who she is.

(P.S. for any part-time scholars of wor Karl in the audience, I do know this isn’t the point he was making in The Eighteenth Brumaire, it just made me think of it okay, chill out).

My favourite character though, was, is, and forever will remain the snarky, independent and fiercely loyal Trouble Dog. From a Carnivore-class heavy cruiser built and bio-engineered for one purpose – to kill, obliterate and destroy with no qualms or scruples – Trouble Dog has developed into someone with a complicated, and yet fundamentally moral outlook on life. There are snippets where Trouble Dog’s inner turmoil and all very human side is laid bare. The fact she is constantly trying to understand and embrace that side of her character shows how far she has come since her days as a war machine in the Conglomeration navy. Plus I just love her personality. The scene where she meets Adalwolf on the deck of a virtual reality ocean liner and arrives wearing ‘a shaggy black bob, and wrapped in a sparkly gold flapper dress, accessorising with a matching tiara and an outrageously long cigarette holder’ is just peak Trouble Dog haha.

Amidst all this there’s still a natural underlying current of serious themes that make this series simultaneously fun, pulpy and literary. Cordelia’s hostility to the prison system as a system that perpetuates the conditions that give rise to crime; Lomax’s observation that the scavengers and couriers doing the dangerous work to retrieve Hearther artefacts aren’t the ones who get rich off them; philosophical and psychological ruminations on how humans view the world (“You are capable of simultaneously occupying two contradictory standpoints? That explains so much abut your behaviour as a species”). There’s a lot of deep stuff in this book, but it’s all seamlessly part of the story, masterfully woven into the fabric of the narrative.

This is a fantastic book, an immensely satisfying and action-packed conclusion to a wonderful series. Gareth Powell is a stand-out among science fiction writers and has quickly become an auto-buy author for me. If you’ve read the previous two books and are looking forward to this, you won’t be disappointed. If you’re a space opera fan and haven’t read any of the Embers of War novels yet, I can almost guarantee you’ll love these books. But for me, for now, all that remains is to say “Farewell Sal and Trouble Dog. Thanks for everything, it’s been a blast”.


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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: SNOW OVER UTOPIA by Rudolfo A. Serna

Book Reviews

SNOW OVER UTOPIA is the most batshit crazy book I’ve ever read. It’s like Snowpiercer and Legend hooked up in a post-human hellscape, dropped a shit ton of acid and proceeded to viscerally tear each other apart limb by limb.

This genre-defying story is set in a post-human age that has moved so far beyond our own world that it’s simply unrecognisable, where fanatical and sadistic slave masters rule company towns with an iron fist, where mutantoid creatures monitor the transmissions of living computer programmes and biohacking demon worshippers battle genetically modified forest hunters in a twisted and brutal apocalyptic landscape. A world where blue eyes are rare and mystical.

Amidst all this a young woman called Eden has her blue eyes brutally cut out of her head by greedy and covetous company men and is left for dead before being rescued by the living computer programme known as Witch Mother and sent on a mission to the city of Utopia, ruled by the ruthlessly fascistic and bloodthirsty Robot Queen, where Eden hopes her eyes can be restored.

I’ll say at the outset this book is not going to be for everyone. It’s not conventional. It’s heavy on atmosphere and light on character. And it’s very, very dark. And I don’t mean dark in the usual sense that it has morally ambiguous characters who do bad things; I mean the thing is absolutely saturated with brutal oppression, violence and visceral prose that at times is stifling and nauseating.

It’s not a book that treats the reader kindly and yet, in the face of all that, I felt this was a book ultimately about hope. This was reflected quite masterfully in a wonderful synergy between the setting and Serna’s prose; both are savage, merciless and yet at the same time shot through with a poetic beauty that is both evocative and strangely optimistic. What I particularly love about Serna’s writing (and it’s something he shares with other great world builders like William Gibson and Tade Thompson) is the confidence he has to throw you in at the deep end of the unrecognisable world he’s created and just let you sink or swim. I was absolutely pulled into his bizarre setting and yeah, I found it difficult to keep up at times, but for me this just means that Serna has succeeded in imagining and creating a world so far beyond our current idea of humanity that it’s inherently difficult to wrap your head around. And he’s done it masterfully.

Snow Over Utopia is a book that starkly highlights the importance of small presses. I mean never say never, but I can’t see a Big Five publisher ever willing to take a risk on a book like this. It’s simply not mainstream enough. Not conventional enough. Not marketable enough. And yet we need books like this. Props to Apex for putting out books like Snow Over Utopia and for being such important engines of experimental and unconventional storytelling.

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Review: SNOW CRASH by Neal Stephenson

Book Reviews

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
LIKED IT

This crazy cyberpunk romp had me hooked from the get go. The opening chapter is a frenetic, totally bonkers ride-along with a pizza delivery guy in a race against time. This guy turns out to be our main character and he’s employed by a Mafia ‘franchise’ in some dystopian anarcho-capitalist future where nation states have been replaced by criminal syndicates, religious zealots and unregulated corporations.

Snow Crash follows our protagonists, Hiro Protagonist (yep, you read that correctly), a sword-wielding hacker and (now former) pizza delivery driver and Y.T., a fifteen-year-old courier with a kick-ass skateboard and one hell of an attitude, as they team up to save the world from a media mogul with a sinister plan.

First things first, Snow Crash doesn’t take itself super seriously. It’s postmodern and it’s meta and it’s constantly reminding you you’re reading a book. One of the protagonists is literally called ‘Hiro Protagonist for f**k sake. At one point when you’re gearing up to witness a high-octane chase scene, Stephenson straight up tells you ‘What happens next is just a chase scene’.

End chapter.

It’s disorientating and fast-paced and totally over the top at times, but you just have to embrace it. Because none of it should work but Neal Stephenson pulls it off wonderfully. It’s also written in present tense, which adds to the relentless pace of the book. It uproots you from the comfort and safety of so many stories that feel like they’ve already happened. This feels urgent, this is happening now. You’re sitting alongside these characters in real-time and it’s nothing if not a thrill ride.

The plot is a bit disjointed, but honestly I’m not even sure this is a shortcoming in a book that’s so obviously parodying the cyberpunk genre, which is rife with so much disorienting technological, social and cultural displacement. I spent the first third of the story not really knowing what was going on, but it was fine because Stephenson does such an excellent job of introducing the characters and the setting and just the generally bonkers vibe of the world I was watching unfold that I was just happy to strap in for the ride and see where I ended up.

It gets a bit info-dumpy in the middle, which ordinarily would cause me to roll my eyes and sigh through several pages of exposition, but I didn’t care. The exposition is handled pretty well and the info itself is interesting and original enough that it kept my attention.

One criticism I do have is the lack of character development. Everyone at the end of Snow Crash seems pretty much the same as they were at the beginning and the ending itself was a bit abrupt. Again, I wonder if this was a conscious choice that actually serves as part of the narrative parody of the genre.

Because Snow Crash is parody. Not just of the cyberpunk genre as a whole, but of itself as well and Stephenson makes no apologies for it. It’s over the top and cartoonish and I could definitely visualise this as manga or anime. A few minor hitches are easily forgivable in a book this fun.

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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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