Bear Head Blog Tour
I’ve made no secret of the fact that I love the works of Adrian Tchaikovsky. Like many, I started with his Shadows of the Apt series, then Echoes of the Fall and the very excellent Tales of the Apt short stories. His standalone novels include Guns of the Dawn, Doors of Eden, one of my favourite books of last year, and of course Dogs of War. He has won the Arthur C. Clarke Award (2016) for Children of Time, The British Fantasy Award for Best Fantasy Novel (2017) for The Tiger and the Wolf and the British Science Fiction Association Award for Best Novel (2019) for Children of Ruin.
Tchaikovsky has written for different publishers, small and large, including Tor/Pan Macmillan, Solaris/Abaddon, Newcon Press and Head of Zeus, from whom his latest novel, Bear Head, comes. He has become even more prolific in his output since leaving employment and taking up writing full time.
Bear Head tells of what happens next for Honey the artificially augmented bear who featured in Dogs of War. It can be read as a stand alone novel, although I feel it is better to read them both. You can find out more about Dogs of War from my earlier review:
It is also a tale of Jimmy, an augmented human part of the workforce building a settlement on Mars. He just wants to make enough money to get his fix of Stringer, and do his part for the future. He has no real ambition and no real plan, but his BioWare is a valuable resource and he can rent it out as storage space while he does his work.
One of the themes that feature in a number of Tchaikovsky’s books is the idea of “the other” - those who are excluded or segregated, physically, intellectually, socially or emotionally from their community or setting. These are often shown by use of not entirely human characters, particularly insects and spiders, but a little more cuddly in Dogs of War and it’s sequel Bear Head.
He was asked about this in an interview for Parallel Worlds and gave the following answer:
“The story [Children of Time] is about empathy with the other, and the problems therein, and spiders are the ultimate other. I don’t think there’s any creature on earth more disliked by a majority of people than spiders, certainly in the west, and so they become the most useful vessel for telling a story about the need to overcome differences.”
I mean, there are no spiders in Bear Head or Dogs of War, so these might be ideal books for you if you want to explore Tchaikovsky’s work while avoiding such things. I make no promises for his other novels nor do I guarantee an insect free story.
Tchaikovsky demonstrates insightful observation of humanity in all his novels, but his portrayal of Warner S. Thompson in Bear Head take this to another level. A politician, who is objectively unpleasant and unlikeable to conventional sensibilities, but who somehow charms both institutions and individuals with the force of his personality. He never really promises anything, but leaves people feeling that he is going to deliver the dream they are after. You don’t have to search to hard for political figures that meet that description. I watch the news and simply don’t understand why these people are popular. Tchaikovsky, it appears, is able to dissect their personality and methods. It’s a chilling tale of what might happen if certain real world politicians, or those of their type, get their hand on the kind of technology the future might bring.
It’s a tale that asks the questions “What makes us people?” and “who deserves to have rights?”. We live in such polarised communities right now and the idea that some people are “less” than others is not exactly unfamiliar. That, perhaps we can have achievements and accomplishments, but we will always be judged on our physical characteristics. Honey has PhDs and intellect pouring out of her, but to some she will always just be a bear.
Jimmy sees the Bioforms based on animals as different from himself, an augmented human, but the technology is basically the same. Those who own and installed the equipment definitely see it that way. The control of Bioforms via technology has legal issues, but the control of humans in this way is definitely illegal. However, there is always a way round it, if you have enough money and the people in question don’t really matter. The issue of free will, perhaps even freedom of speech, is looked at in a scenario where you literally can not say no, rather than one where you might lose your book deal or have a speaking engagement cancelled.
Tchaikovsky uses the story to pose questions about crime and drug use, and their role in keeping a community orderly. He hypothesises the potential benefit to those in power to quietly facilitate it rather than shutting it down. Sugar, an augmented human, runs her own criminal enterprise, hiding and moving data around when someone wants something kept, but not findable. Rufus, the Sheriff, is happy to turn a blind eye.
Bear Head is a fascinating novel, with so many questions and an emotional punch or two. It has a fast pace and draws you into the story This novel is absolutely a must read for all science fiction fans.
Previous reviews of Adrian Tchaikovsky’s work:
The Doors of Eden https://www.hwsevents.co.uk/post/review-the-doors-of-eden
The Bear and the Serpent http://www.concatenation.org/frev/tchaikovsky-bear.html
A Time for Grief https://sfbook.com/a-time-for-grief.htm
Spoils of War https://sfbook.com/spoils-of-war.htm
Reviewed by Allen:
Children of Time http://www.concatenation.org/frev/tchaikovsky_children.html
Children of Ruin https://sfbook.com/children-of-ruin.htm
Guns of the Dawn https://sfbook.com/guns-of-the-dawn.htm