Lessons in Birdwatching
By Honey Watson
- Lessons in Birdwatching
Author: Honey Watson
Publisher: Angry Robot
- ISBN: 9781915202543
- Published: August 2023
- Pages: 295
- Format reviewed: Paperback
- Review date: 11/08/2023
- Language: English
The science fiction genre is open to exploring alien worlds and alien ideas, but many times you find it is a very Terran feeling society being all human about things. It may be an android as the main character, but that android is following a classic crime noir style plot you could find on Earth. When you come across a book that embraces the alien, not once, but twice, you know that you better be prepared for some mind-bending science fiction. Welcome to Homey Watson’s Lessons in Birdwatching.
Five research students have been sent by their elders to an alien planet and observe the locals. It seems like a boring task for this group of arrogant scholars, but they are yet to realise that they are present during a monumental change in the world. When a body is found of a local dignitary, the students decide to investigate the truth, if only to make sure that they are not blamed. Their investigation will test their loyalty to one another and uncover a hidden mystery on the planet.
The book is structured in a way that you are dealing with two alien societies interweaved with one another. The main characters are from off world, from a progressive society. They have been sent down to experience a less developed world and observe and report. This means that the reader learns about two societies, neither of which fall into the trap of feeling Terran. Two alien concepts on top of one another. The ‘developed’ world is split into factions, all equal, but with different skill sets. The ‘undeveloped’ society still believes in Gods. Are they right to believe in this deity?
Birdwatching feels like a novel of misdirection and defying expectations. The title makes me think of a cosy crime caper set in the Cotswolds or a romantic tale about Twitchers. This book is certainly not these things, it is science fiction, but a cluster of the sub genres that you find; hard sci fi, body horror, thriller. You can feel influences like The Thing and Dune, is there, but it is very much its own thing. It evolves from one thing into another, even some of the descriptive language develops as the horror elements come to the fore.
The book is hard to pigeonhole and that is not a bad thing. It feels different, the characters are snarky and zippy, vying for attention, ambitious. They can be friends one moment and then antagonists the next. At no time can the reader become complacent lest they lose some of the plotting. This did happen to me on occasion, and I would have to reread a section to clarify what was happening. In this sense the book feels more like hard science fiction for readers who like their ideas challenging.
With its multiple alien societies and genre jumping, Birdwatching is an exciting book, if a little haphazard in places. A more focussed reader than I may be able to notice all the threads that the book has to offer, but I had to read it on the level of a genre novel. I enjoyed the world building and Watson does a respectable job of explaining the hierarchical structure, especially of the advanced society. The layered societies were too in depth for me to understand all the time, but I enjoyed the horror elements. Watson’s descriptions of body horror are particularly strong. A future book that focuses on this one element would be worth checking out.
Written on 11th August 2023 by Sam Tyler .