Review of Thirteen by Richard K. Morgan

May 5, 2008
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Science Fiction Audiobook - Thirteen by Richard K. Morgan Thirteen
By Richard K. Morgan; Read by Simon Vance
18 CDs or 3 MP3-CDs – Approx. 23 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Tantor Audio
Published: July 2007
ISBN: 1400104319 (CDs), 1400154316 (MP3-CDs)
Themes: / Science Fiction / Noir / Mystery / Hard Boiled / Genetic Engineering /

Carl Marsalis is a traitor, a bringer of death, a genetic freak and an unwelcome reminder of all that is dark in the human psyche – he in every sense of the word a Black Man. And right at the moment he’s beyond the UN’s jurisdiction, banged up in a Florida jail for financing an illegal abortion. So when the US police call, Carl cuts a deal. The 13s are genetically engineered alpha males, designed to fight the century’s last conflicts. But men bred and designed to fight are dangerous to have around in peacetime. Many of them have left for Mars, but one has returned. Somehow he survived the journey to Earth, and now a series of brutal slayings has erupted across America. Only Carl can stop him. And so begins a frenetic man hunt and a battle for survival. And a search for the truth about what was really done with the world’s last soldiers.

I find Richard K. Morgan, in his rare interviews, offers deep insights into his work. In regards to Thirteen (called Black Man in the U.K.), he describes it as: “An accidentally lengthy meditation on elements of the human condition that the Kovacs books [Altered Carbon etc.] always had the capacity to sidestep – namely, the prison of our own flesh, and the inevitable doom of our own mortality.” And its true, Morgan delivers action and cogitation on action. The setting, a grimly-futuristic Earth and the characters play out the consequences of a well thought out backstory. In Thirteen it seems that various experiments in genetic engineering have lead to at least thirteen strains of humanity. Like all good hard-boiled mysteries it has a fully realized backstory that predominates the main-stage machinations. Carl Marsalis is our anti-hero. He’s one of a small group of genetically engineered super-soldiers who were created by the British government for military use. In Thirteen, Morgan has created a grim future – one that is different from his detailed Altered Carbon and Market Forces worlds – but no less vivid. Years ago, in our future, a new arms race ran rampant, every nation with super-power ambitions started making genetic super-soldiers, others side stepped into crossbreeding bonobos sexual appetites and attitudes into humans. Add in a new racism bound to genetics, the old racism based on skin tone, the potential return of Jesus Christ, a dissolved United States of America, and international intrigue plays out from South America to Asia Minor and Mars – and you get a very rich premise. Carl Marsalis is a dour, taciturn anti-hero, but he’s pretty compassionate for a sociopath. His genes and something called “mesh” (another Richard K. Morgan edge-giver like “neuro chem” from Altered Carbon) and martial arts from Mars make him one bad-ass Brit. If there’s a weakness with the story, it’s the intricacy, there’s almost too much backstory – this leads to too many scenes where little bits of information get doled out. The addition of well more than a dozen characters for Marsalis to tangle with make the whole novel feel long. Thankfully, there’s a perfect ending capping this thoughtfully Noir Science Fiction novel.

Tantor Audio tapped Simon Vance to voice Thirteen, he also narrated Morgan’s Market Forces. Vance brings his a growing body of experience to work with him, and manages to nail a lot of accents in this continent bounding tale. The only point I was shaken from the narrative came when Vance used what sounded like a Charlie Chan impression for a female Chinese character. So far Tantor’s had a lock on the Richard K. Morgan audiobook market so I’m hoping they’re planning on recording The Steel Remains, his forthcoming novel too.

Posted by Jesse Willis

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