Saturday, January 03, 2009

Review: Thirteen

One always knows what to expect from a Richard Morgan novel: sex, violence, and super-soldiers. Thirteen (kindle edition) deviates slightly from this --- there's not a huge amount of sex, and the violence is interspersed with a lot of philosophy and ruminations of human history. I like it.

The theme here is human evolution, and genetic engineering. The world is ours, set in a near future in which the US has been split into Jesusland and annex portions of the Pacific Rim and Europe. Our anti-hero protagonist, Carl Marsalis, is a genetically engineered human, called thirteen, a genetic throwback to the days when human society wasn't as feminized. Such a soldier, of course, would be remorseless and single-minded, and almost completely impossible to control. When the authorities learn that a renegade thirteen has been released, they spring Marsalis out of his current predicament and set him to find the renegade.

The milieu is portrayed as dispassionately as only a foreigner can --- while Morgan's definitely done his research, he is definitely not attached to the idea that the US is anything special (at one point, there's a comparison between modern Turkey and the current USA, which wasn't a connection I would have made). Morgan uses this world as a vehicle to explore issues such as the role of masculinity in a world where it seems that the only thing left for men to do is to propagate violence.

The pacing of this book, however, isn't picture-perfect the way Morgan's previous novels are. The story drags in the first half, and towards the end, with all the violence piled in together, feels numbing to me. There are, however, several moving scenes all interspersed in between, which provide enough of a candy to keep me going.

All in all, a good start to the year, and recommended reading. Just make sure you read Altered Carbon first if you haven't read it yet, as that is still the best Richard Morgan book to start with.
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