Bear Head follows the story of Jimmy, a construction worker on Mars, who is building luxury apartments for humanity’s rich and powerful. His body has been augmented so he can survive the planet’s harsh atmosphere but it’s okay, the company bankrolling the venture will change him back again once the work is done… won’t they?
That future isn’t Jimmy’s problem though. Right now he has drug and cash-flow troubles to deal with. So in a bid to get a little extra something on the side, he rents out the spare processing and storage capabilities of his modified brain for an illegal data dump. After all, if you want to hide incriminating information, where better than in the brain of a nobody on another planet, far away from any legal jurisdiction Earth may have?
However, the dodgy scheme goes awry when the data Jimmy’s storing starts talking to him. Realising he’s not simply hiding tax records or pornography, it soon becomes apparent Jimmy’s sharing his brain with the cloned intelligence of a political refugee called Honey… who is a bear. A very smart bear with an agenda and pretty soon she’s not just talking to Jimmy, she can take control of his body too.
In Adrian Tchaikovsky’s second instalment of his Dogs Of War series, humanity has become fearful of the power of Artificial Intelligence. Instead, they have turned to Distributed Intelligence which utilises the excess processing capabilities of a brain for networking data. A novel hybrid of a hive mind with independent thought, if you will.
This may sound like a sparse explanation but that’s the testament to Tchaikovsky’s innate narrative skill. The how and why of it all isn’t really what’s important here; instead the characters and story take precedence (which also means that Bear Head works just as well as a standalone tale as it does a sequel).
Unburdened by heavy exposition and through the clever use of split-perspective narrative, the reader is treated to a wonderfully strange blend of a story that sits somewhere between Total Recall and Johnny Mnemonic with just a touch of Animal Farm thrown in for good measure.
There’s something satisfying to a book where, once the players are in place, story mechanics take over and we follow through the seed of an idea to its logical and (possibly) inevitable conclusion. With a prescient focus on political landscapes and how manipulations of them can manifest on both sides of an argument, Bear Head works just as well as a thought-provoking science fiction as it does a political thriller.
Bear Head by Adrian Tchaikovsky is out now. Read a blog post by Adrian Tchaikovsky here where he talks about animal worlds within SF and fantasy…