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Monday, June 11, 2007

"Thirteen" by Richard K. Morgan

Official Richard K. Morgan Website
Order “ThirteenHERE
Order “Black ManHERE
Read An Excerpt HERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s Interview with Mr. Morgan

As I mentioned previously in the interview that I did with Richard K. Morgan, the British author has become a personal favorite of mine, which started with the wonderful cyberpunk/noir-influenced, Philip K. Dick Award-winning debut “Altered Carbon” where readers were introduced to anti-hero Takeshi Kovacs. Following that, Mr. Morgan has released three other excellent science fiction novels: the standalone “Market Forces” which explores globalization/capitalism in the near future, and two Kovacs sequels, the military SF-like “Broken Angels” and “Woken Furies”, probably my favorite Richard K. Morgan novel. Recently released in the UK under the title “Black Man” (May 17, 2007-Gollancz), Mr. Morgan’s latest novel, the already much talked about “Thirteen” (US Release Date: June 26, 2007), continues the author’s trend of compellingly smart, mind-bending SF.

Much like any Richard K. Morgan novel, “Black Man/Thirteen” offers flawed protagonists and antagonists who skirt the line between good & evil, complex plots and characterizations, thought-provoking morality issues, vivid ethnic diversity, and copious amounts of profanity, graphic sex & violence. For Kovacs fans, main character Carl Marsalis is somewhat similar in spirit to Takeshi, while the convoluted crime investigation at the heart of “Black Man/Thirteen” provides plenty of gritty noirish elements that will make you feel right at home. On top of that, there are many other familiar, though sometimes obscure, reference points to the Kovacs books – virtual reality, nanotechnology, the Mars colonization, etc. are some of the more recognizable, though from the science aspect, “Black Man/Thirteen” is more comparable to “Market Forces”. Specifically, the two novels are set in a near-future Earth – 22nd century to be exact in “Black Man/Thirteen” – where the focus is not so much on the application of high-concept technology like the ‘resleeving’ found in Kovacs’ world, but more on the extrapolations of realistic cultural themes. In the case of “Black Man/Thirteen” you have an America divided into the Pacific Rim, Union & ‘Jesusland’ by differing political, religious & racial views; a China that is now the leading superpower; a peaceful Middle East; and issues dealing with ‘male power (dominance)' vs. 'female negotiation (tolerance)’, genetic manipulation, colonialism, and other topics that you may find analogous with current events. In short, "Black Man/Thirteen" is undeniably a Richard K. Morgan novel, and while the book may share certain traits with its predecessors, at the same time it offers readers plenty of new & exciting experiences.

Story-wise, “Black Man/Thirteen” follows the narrative of three main characters: the aforementioned Carl Marsalis, a genetically altered ‘variant thirteen’ – Thirteens were initially designed as the ultimate solider, yet eventually exiled to Mars due to the publics’ fear of them – who won his freedom from Mars and is now a freelancer licensed with UNGLA who mainly hunts down rogue thirteens; Sevgi Ertekin, a former NYPD detective and current COLIN (Colony Initiative) investigator; and her partner, COLIN exec Tom Norton. Instigated by the unlikely crash of a COLIN spacecraft from Mars onto the Earth’s surface, Carl, Sevgi and Tom join forces to solve the accident and hunt down the escaped ‘thirteen’ responsible for the murders of several innocents, including the unspeakable atrocities that occurred on the shuttle. As the book progresses, expect to learn more about the make-up of the different characters inhabiting “Black Man/Thirteen”, delve further into the conspiracy surrounding the crash, the rogue thirteen and the murders, including some of the best plot twists that I’ve seen from Mr. Morgan yet, – not to mention some of the most emotional – and experience varying stances offered by the different hierarchies in this fascinating, yet terrifying future Earth…

Compared to his previous works, “Black Man/Thirteen” was my second least favorite Richard K. Morgan novel, just ahead of the book “Market Forces”. I could say it was because “Black Man/Thirteen” lacked the fast pacing of “Altered Carbon” or that is was not as action-packed as the Kovacs novels, or that some parts of the book were too ‘political’ for my tastes, not unlike “Market Forces”, but it wouldn’t be the whole truth. Sure, those were issues I had with “Black Man/Thirteen”, but minor ones when compared to the book’s overall brilliance. After all, when I look at “Black Man/Thirteen”, I see a book that is technically, thematically and creatively, more superior than any of Mr. Morgan’s other novels. I’m talking about an elaborate plot that rivals, and in many ways, surpasses the complexity found in “Woken Furies”; an excellent balance of thrilling action, in-depth characterization, and intelligent examination of what could be considered controversial subject matter; brilliant metaphorical play on themes of racism, etc.; and of course Mr. Morgan’s wonderful writing & tight execution, which seems to improve with every release. No, simply put, I just love everything about the Takeshi Kovacs novels more – the characters, the setting, the first-person narrative, the futuristic concepts, the mythos, the attitude of the books, everything. In fact, I can say with confidence that Kovacs is probably one of my favorite characters in literature period, and his books are very close to the top. So, even though in my mind “Black Man/Thirteen” is the better book for the reasons I pointed out, I just can’t help but like the Takeshi novels more :).

For readers just jumping on the Richard K. Morgan bandwagon, “Black Man/Thirteen” is a pretty good starting point since it’s a standalone novel set in a world apart from his previous books. If you’ve been following the author like I have, then you have a fairly good idea of what to expect in “Black Man/Thirteen” and Mr. Morgan doesn’t disappoint. In fact, “Black Man/Thirteen” could be Richard K. Morgan’s most ambitious and provocative novel to date. Personally, considering what Mr. Morgan is currently doing for the science fiction genre, I absolutely cannot wait to see what the author brings to the fantasy scene with his upcoming sword-and-sorcery trilogy. Of course, I’ll also be there when Mr. Morgan returns to the world of “Black Man/Thirteen” in a future sequel. In the meantime, if you love a book that is just as thought-provoking as it is entertaining, then it doesn’t get any better than “Black Man/Thirteen”…


Anonymous said...

Richard K. Morgan's body of work is innovative, inventive, just down right nasty.

Market Forces is brilliant, violent and addictive. The Takeshi Kovacs universe is full of detailed, fast pace, hard core action.

Many literary critic have pointed out that the overall pacing of the novel BlackMan/Thirteen is uneven, but if you consider many of the readers who will pick up this book are from a culture based on fast food, hip hop and video games the pace works well.

If you are looking something new or a Richard K. Morgan fan BlackMan/Thirteen is a must.

Robert said...

I second what Mr. Thomas said :) Thanks for sharing...


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