Bear Head by Adrian Tchaikovsky

I think this what you could call a small epic. Pure science-fiction which Tchaikovsky spins a tale around his crossovers: technology, mutant zoology and evolution.

The story takes place on Earth, where a sickeningly unpleasant political demagogue (sounds familiar?) seeks to amass power through the use of cybernetic implants that nullifies free will; and Mars, where a population of genetically workers are building habitats for the first inhabitants of a colony. That would be a story on its own, but when you throw in an AI hive mind and genetically engineered animals with human intelligence, then top it off with Martian worker who finds his brain taken over by the disembodied intelligence of an elderly bear … er what?

Amazingly, it all holds together, though it does move in fits and starts. The prose is workmanlike without too much flair, and the dialogue is top notch (though it could do with a bit of dealing back in places). But once the societal explanations are out of the way, the book motors along, shortening the sentences and the chapters to a gripping climax.

But weirdly, the most fascinating character for me was the demagogue. The author has found something of a muse in the President 45 and presents him in a way that, strangely enough, might explain some of his rather bizarre personality traits. So, the book not only works as a science-fiction action piece, but also as a character study.

So can we add psychology to Tchaikovsky’s heavily strung bow? Maybe. Anyway, it’s a very enjoyable book, perhaps a bit longer than it needed to be, but well worth it for the payoff at the end.

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