Blog Tour Book Review: BEAR HEAD by Adrian Tchaikovsky

I received a review copy from the publisher as part of this blog tour in exchange for an honest review. It has not affected my opinion.

Title in white on black next to image of a bear's head
Genre: Sci-fi
Age Range: Adult
Star Rating: 3.5 stars
Series: Yes - second book
CW: sexual assault

Synopsis:

Book cover for BEAR HEARD: title in white below red image of bear's head

Mars. The red planet. A new frontier for humanity, a civilization where humans can live in peace, lord and master of all they survey.

But this isn’t Space City from those old science-fiction books. We live in Hell City, built into and from a huge subcontinent-sized crater. There’s a big silk canopy over it, feeding out atmosphere as we generate it, little by little, until we can breathe the air.

It’s a perfect place to live, if you actually want to live on Mars. I guess at some point I had actually wanted to live on Mars, because here I am. The money was supposed to be good, and how else was a working Joe like me supposed to get off-planet exactly? But I remember the videos they showed us – guys, not even in suits, watching robots and bees and Bioforms doing all the work – and they didn’t quite get it right…

Synopsis taken from Goodreads. Add to your shelves here.


Review:

I know it says this is the second book in a series, but I was told I could read it without reading the first entry, so I did. And I could follow it perfectly because it felt like a standalone, and I don’t think I could guess at the plot of the first book (given I haven’t looked it up at all). The story is self-contained and the world makes sense without any prior knowledge.

I loved the voice in Jimmy’s POV – the bitter, self-deprecating edge to someone living in a dystopia but realistic about his options. Sure, Mars is not great, but what was better about Earth? It was a great contrast to the clinical, driven Honey(the AI bear in his head), and it made for some really nice interactions between the two as they were forced to come to an agreement and work together.

The concept at the heart of the book is great – and unnervingly realistic. People and animals can be modified, which has led to intelligent animal hybrids who can communicate (bioforms) and AIs. There is a rise of human populism against both of them, trying to eradicate AI and make bioforms second class, subservient citizens. At the same time, there are brain implants that can control human behaviour.

It’s not a new way of tackling issues about class, citizenship, and right to personal choice – but it’s an effective one and makes for an engaging story. The tide of populism – and they hypocrisy of the villain in how we played everyone for his own power – feels too realistic at times. And what is sci-fi but using the future to examine the now?

This book uses sexual assault to show that the villain (a man) is a baddie, but the way it’s done feels like exploiting trauma. It did not feel necessary to the book – it was not the reason the victim ends up acting as they do in the end, and all the reasons they do act would have been enough to show the man as the villain. If the assault was not intrinsically linked to motive, why include it?

Plus, we get the sexual assault from the perspective of the woman, and it’s so horrible to read – particularly as part of the plot is trying to control people with implants, and she has an implant that makes it almost impossible to refuse him, or consider him with anything other than slavish devotion. It was just so horrible, and unnecessary – and overshadowed a lot of the book for me.


Read my reviews of other books by Adrian Tchaikovsky:

The Final Architects:

Standalones:

Children of Time:

Blog tour graphic: names of participating blogger on red bear's head next to image of book

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