Thursday, August 06, 2009

Random, Rare Book Review

I've been on a bit of reading kick. Three straight books with out any significant (months long) break between them.

Most recently I finished Thirteen by Richard K. Morgan. It is a noir detective story in a SciFi setting on Earth a couple hundred years in the future. The story isn't terribly original by SciFi standards. A genetically modified super soldier, Variant Thirteen, is sent back to Earth from Mars and starts killing people and no one knows why. Another Thirteen is sprung from jail by authorities to help track down the killer.

Pretty standard fare for the genre but I like the future world that Morgan creates. It is a plausible future where gene modifications and computer technology have greatly expanded beyond today's frontiers. His space travel is not the story of Warp or Hyper Drives. Instead people are put into a frozen, suspended animation for the months long trip between Earth and Mars. Communication between the two planets takes 13+ minutes to travel between the planets, depending on how close they are to each other. In other words, he doesn't suspend the laws of physics as understood by Einstein and others.

In addition he creates the anti-hero protagonist that I like in books. Carl Marsalis, the Thirteen hired to hunt down the killer, isn't really a nice guy. At one point in the book he gets mad and goes out to find a fight and kills a man. This is the kind of protagonist Morgan creates. In his previous series of books, starting with Altered Carbon, the protagonist is Takeshi Kovacs. Another genetically modified warrior who has his own violent streak.

In Altered Carbon people are able to switch their minds/memories/personalities to different bodies. The Thirteen universe eliminates this ability. In Thirteen Morgan deals with different issues where men can die and the limits of the person. He explores the (f)utility of violence more than in the previous series. Still, his attempts at deeper meanings get lost in his fast pace, action packed style of writing. You can completely miss those meanings and still have a good read.

I like both universes from a SciFi stand point but Thirteen also deals with current politics. My biggest complaint about the book - something that has made me want to put it down many times - is Morgan's preaching about U.S. politics. In Thirteen the U.S. has broken up in to multiple countries with the majority of the land being the "Confederate Republic." Those outside the CR refer to it as "Jesusland." The Jesuslanders and their politics are portrayed as the caricature of far right wing, bible thumping Republicans of today.

Technically I should be part of the audience that this applies to. However, Morgan wields the theme as a sledgehammer. It's just too much. At one point in the book there is mention of a professor at the University Of Texas that was forced out after refusing to sign the "Creationist Pledge." That episode, and really Jesusland over all, serves very little purpose in the story. I really could have done with out that.

It's a good book if you like SciFi, but I would strongly recommend Altered Carbon first.

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