Book Review: Rosebud by Paul Cornell

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Genre: Sci-Fi
Publisher: Tordotcom
Publication Date: April 26th, 2022
Pages: 112, paperback
Source: NetGalley

“The crew of the Rosebud are, currently, and by force of law, a balloon, a goth with a swagger stick, some sort of science aristocrat possibly, a ball of hands, and a swarm of insects.”

When five sentient digital beings—condemned for over three hundred years to crew the small survey ship by the all-powerful Company—encounter a mysterious black sphere, their course of action is clear: obtain the object, inform the Company, earn lots of praise.

But the ship malfunctions, and the crew has no choice but to approach the sphere and survey it themselves. They have no idea that this object—and the transcendent truth hidden within—will change the fate of all existence, the Company, and themselves.

I like Paul Cornell’s work, even when I’m not sure I’ve entirely gotten the message. Such is the case with Rosebud. It’s as if 2001 had been written by John Dickson Carr, perhaps. It’s a mystery inside an enigma inside a, well, you get the idea.

There are five sentient digital beings who are being punished for crimes against society. Their job is to investigate anomalies. Upon encountering a mysterious sphere, they decide to investigate and then must decide what to do with forbidden knowledge.

I found myself distracted by the physical forms the digital beings took. I suppose that if you’ve been locked up for several hundred years, you have to take your freedoms where you can, but it didn’t really add anything to the story for me, and it made it a bit harder to keep track of who was whom. The characters themselves are interesting, and I wanted to know more about them.

The pop culture references were fun. It does seem to be a thing for a lot of books lately, but I have to wonder whether people will really be quoting cult classics several hundred years from now, the way we do, say, Shakespeare.

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