Bear Head

By Adrian Tchaikovsky

When we colonise the planets will they send out the best and the brightest? I’m not so sure as many of the best and the brightest will be quite happy on Earth leading a successful life. Converting the likes of Mars into a liveable environment will be dirty, cold and dangerous work. It is more likely that we will send out the hardier people and, in some cases, the foolhardier. Let them build the utopia for us and we will just rock up when it is finished. What could possibly go wrong? 

When Jimmy Martin applied for a job of helping to build ‘Hell City’ on Mars he thought he was in for some easy money. No one told him that it was also extremely boring. The only relief that Jimmy gets is in the form of designer drugs that he cannot afford. To make ends meet he lends spare capacity in his brain to data smugglers. It has worked well in the past, but this time the data is talking back and says that it is an intelligent bear named Honey. 

Science Fiction is a glorious genre but it can drop you in at the deep end and expect you to learn how to swim quickly. Bear Head by Adrian Tchaikovsky throws concepts at the reader in the first few chapters and you have to concentrate to follow what is happening. After a while you start to appreciate all the hard work as the book opens into a comedic thriller with intelligent science fiction ideas that never lose a sense of the absurd. 

The tone of the book is captured perfectly in the character of Jimmy. He is an everyman, if an everyman is as lazy as they can be and complains a lot. He is not happy with his lot in life and likes a quiet life. Therefore, he hates being thrust into an interplanetary conspiracy that he becomes the centre of. For large parts of the book, Jimmy is fighting internally with Honey for control. It is very amusing to see Jimmy try to control his own legs. It is lucky for him that the bear is such a benevolent visitor. 

The concept of Honey the intelligent bear is one of many great ideas in Bear Head. This is a future of genetically engineered humans, but also animals. Bears, Dogs, Cats and even Dragons have been enlarged and developed to do tricky work humans will not. This leads to another interesting concept of rights. What rights to these animals have? Honey herself was an advocate for animal rights and the politics plays a huge role in the story. 

The ideas do not stop there. There is also the building of a new city on Mars and a group of Bees who act like nanobots. There is a lot to take in through the pages, but for any big fan of science fiction it will be like clover. So many things to ponder and question. 

In the midst of the concepts is a solid action thriller. Jimmy is running for his life and as he is doing so Tchaikovsky fleshes out the wider world. The story is told from the perspective of Jimmy, but also the fragmented memories or Honey, and the perspective of someone close to a political enemy. You get the sense of a well fleshed out world that has plenty of space left to explore. 

Bear Head is a book with more than its fair share of complex science fiction ideas but it is worth absorbing as many of them as you can through the early pages as you benefit later in the story. There is a nice blend of comedy and thrills. The hard nature of the science means that this book is best suited from lovers of Hard Science Fiction, but who are also looking for a little light relief. There is not much else out there similar to Bear Head and that is refreshing.  

Written on 7th January 2021 by .

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