Monday, 14 May 2007
'Black Man' - Richard Morgan
Carl Marsalis is a ‘Variant Thirteen’, a genetically modified alpha-male, the ultimate soldier in a world that no longer has any need for them. He earns a living hunting down his fellow ‘Thirteens’ who have either escaped the internment ‘tracts’ or have somehow managed to make it back from Mars. Hated by his own kind (as the bringer of death) and feared by the rest of humanity, Carl must constantly walk the line between what he is and how society demands that he live. A deal cut with the US police leads Carl in pursuit of a rogue ‘Thirteen’ responsible for a spate of murders across America. What Carl finds instead are circumstances that don’t quite add up and these are covering the truth about what really happened to the last of the world’s ‘genetic soldiers’…
Perceived racist connotations in the title mean that if you’re buying this in America you’ll be buying a book called ‘Thirteen’ instead. This is very ironic seeing as ‘Black Man’s’ depiction of the fundamentalist American secession states (‘Jesusland’) are far more likely to get the book burnt than anything else. This is a novel about prejudice but Morgan looks to tackle something far meatier than racism, he shares his view on the ramifications of man playing God in a way that is startling in it’s intensity and brutally frank in its approach. Marsalis is unique in that he does not fit into any area of society at all and attracts prejudice from all sides. Morgan expands on this to paint a picture of a whole world hamstrung by fear of what it has created and slowly turning on the Variants and anything else that is different. The human (and Variant) cost is portrayed in every single character the reader meets. Marsalis’ job reminded me of Deckard ‘retiring’ androids, in ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?’, but the substitution of pragmatism for spirituality make this a far more compelling read. The whole point of the ‘Variant Thirteen’ is their capacity for charisma and violence, Morgan does not shirk from showing just exactly what a ‘Thirteen’ is capable of in his now trademark scenes of ultra-violence. Check out what Marsalis is capable of when he takes on six men armed with just a shovel!
My initial annoyance at the abundance of descriptions of America’s economic landscape soon became awe at the attention to detail Morgan has paid to every facet of his book, it is so well written that you will almost believe that this is how things could turn out.
Sci-fi book of the year? Most definitely. Genre book of the year? Could well be…
Ten out of Ten