Fiction Reviews

Black Man

Published as Thirteen in the US

(2007) Richard Morgan, Gollancz, 14.99, hrdbk, 546pp, ISBN 0-575-0-7513-9


When a transport ship from the Mars colony overshoots the sky-hook and crash-lands in the ocean, there are expected to be few survivors, but no one expects the scenes of carnage inside. Someone has killed and eaten the passengers, then jumped ship. Naturally enough this could be bad publicity for the Colony Initiative (COLIN), but it gets worse when it is discovered that the killer is a Variant 13, a genetically engineered 'hypermale', created for the previous century's wars as a soldier and insurgent. Sevgi Ertekin is an ex-NYPD homicide detective, now working for COLIN, and it's her job to track down the rogue 13 who, seemingly, has gone on a random killing spree across North America. She'll need all the help she can get. Carl Marsalis is a UN sanctioned bounty hunter, a Variant 13 himself who specialises in tracking down other Thirteens. There are just two small problems: the UN and COLIN don't really get on, and Marsalis is in jail in Jesusland for intent to procure an abortion. When Ertekin asks for his help in tracking the serial killer in return for getting him out of jail, he's more than ready to do a deal. But are the spree killer's victims really chosen at random, or is there some unseen sinister purpose behind the bloody rampage? And, in a world where Variant 13s aren't wanted and are routinely shipped to Mars, can Marsalis overcome the prejudice of the people he's forced to work with and still find the rogue hypermale?

If you are starting to think this book owe's more than a little to Philip K Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, you would be right. It is hard not to draw parallels between the two, with the nano-engineered colony on Mars, constantly hyped by COLIN, turning out to be less than the paradise offered, and genetically engineered humans set to track down other gen-enged Variants - Dick's 'offworld colonies' and replicants are sure to come to mind. But the similarities, while more then superficial, are not the whole story. The book has more to do with prejudice (hence the title) and with what happens to old soldiers when they are no longer needed and 'politically expedient'. This is a thriller about a cover-up and the price of stability in a changing world. Morgan is very much in his element here, and the world he has created is all too plausible (not least in terms of the geo-political 'realities', the role of the UN, and 'big business'). That he is also on the money as far as humans' natural tendency towards racism is concerned is itself an uncomfortable truth that needs to be dealt with. Morgan is an excellent writer and well worth some of your hard-earned cash for a very entertaining and thought-provoking read. Just don't expect an easy ride...

Tony Chester

See Jonathan's review of Blackman.

Other reviews of Richard Morgan books on this site include: Altered Carbon, Broken Angels, Market Forces and Woken Furies.

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