Rosewater * Tade Thompson

Rating: 4 out of 5.

“This thrilling, ambitious novel offers a deftly woven and incisive blend of science fiction, psychology, action, and mystery. Highly recommended.”

— Kate Elliott, author of Black Wolves and Cold Magic

Part cyberpunk, part post-colonial noir, full-blown weird: telepaths, implants and aliens in a future Nigeria? I’m sold. Rosewater is a fine blueprint upon which future science fiction stories should be written.

Every day about five hundred customers carry out financial transactions at these premises. Wild sensitives probe and push, trying to pick personal data out of the air. I’m talking about dates-of-birth, PINs, mothers’ maiden names, past transactions, all of them lying docile in each customer’s forebrain, in the working memory, waiting to be plucked out by the hungry, untrained, and freebooting sensitives.

It was in 2012 that an extra-terrestrial form appeared in the city of London. But this one is the size of Hyde Park and grows underground, moving through the earth’s crust. No spaceship, but a gigantic rock containing a no less colossal intelligent creature. 

Nicknamed Artemisia by a BBC journalist, this form of life does not however seem to be the first of its kind to arrive on Earth, but the third. The first arrived on January 12, 1975 in Lagos, Nigeria. This amoeboid mass of extra-terrestrial organic matter spread through the ground and survived for 106 days before collapsing and dying. The second crashed in Hyde Park, devastating London. Three other landings also took place on US territory. But it is in Nigeria that our story takes place, and more precisely in the small town of Rosewater, which has developed in an anarchic way around a gigantic biodome, also containing an intelligent creature from space. The dome measures about sixty meters for a diameter of fifty kilometres. 

Mugwort is buried in the ground and sinks deeper and deeper, moving with the earth’s crust following the shifts of tectonic plates. It encloses within it trapped Earthlings, who however seem to take advantage of this captive state. 

Mugwort protects and nourishes all this little world well protected from the pangs of external chaos. The inhabitants there have the strange experience of merging with the vegetable materiality of their protector. Witness the cellulose clothes they dress up in or the living tattoos slipping under their skin. Once a year, the biodome opens and the xenosphere it contains allows humans around it to see diseases and other pathologies miraculously disappear. 

Hence the proliferation of a whole fringe of the population which develops anarchically around Rosewater, which has become a veritable court of miracles. In order to inquire about the intentions of these invaders, whose potential dangerousness was unknown at the time, Section 45, or S45 – obscure intelligence service of the Nigerian government – hires Kaaro, of the Yoruba ethnic group. Previously a nester or stealth burglar, he is now in charge of the dirty work for the latter. 

‘I think you should ask for a refund,’ I say. ‘Awon agba ni gbogbo oro lo lesi, sugbon kii se gbogbo oro laa fesi si.’ The elders say, there is an answer to every question, but it is not every question that we answer.

If Kaaro proves to be the key element of this service, it is due to a singularity developed with the appearance of these extraterrestrial organisms. Kaaro indeed has the gift of being able to penetrate the xenosphere and thus access the smallest recesses of the minds of the people visited. These in turn can also read the mind of the visitor, but in a less incisive way. Entering the xenosphere supposes for the receptive to have to change his mental state. 

What we call the xenosphere is larger than we think. What we use is the tiny periphery that connects us and the people in our immediate environment. You’ve heard of how photosynthesis involves quantum physics? This lattice of xenoforms connects throughout the atmosphere of the Earth, but not just the present time. It is in the past and the future, and in alternate versions of our planet. It is an easy place to get lost in.

The latter then immerses himself in a psychic field, which represents a particularly unstable mental field. Ideas then flow in a bundle and not in a usually linear way. 

It is then possible for him to fly over the world, through an avatar that the receptive will have decided to embody. Kaaro is however not the only receptive, or medium, who can develop such skills. However, his congeners have an unfortunate tendency to die. An unknown evil inevitably decimates the latter, a way, perhaps, of achieving the total elimination of the receptive, a potential danger for invaders from the confines of space. 

Mugwort diffuses throughout the biosphere macro-organisms and micro-organisms, which clearly aim to colonize the Earth. 

Should we see the premises for a larger-scale invasion? And what resources will humans find to deal with this programmed disappearance?

Silently, inexorably, despite the efforts of people like Oyin Da and Eleja, the invasion continues. Humanity dies one cell at a time. I don’t know what will happen when we all become full xeno, but it’s like climate change or that asteroid that will collide with the Earth and wipe us out. We all think we’ll be dead and gone by the time the carnage begins.

The alien in me says that is delusional thinking. For this disaster we will all be present.

For this we will all have front row seats.

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