Posted by: Gregg | April 1, 2008

Thirteen – Richard K. Morgan

I’ve blogged about Morgan’s first novel, the wonderfully futuristic and gritty Altered Carbon, before. Jumping into his more recent and equally critically acclaimed novel, Thirteen, I find that Morgan is still writing excellent sci-fi, however some of the problems I saw in Carbon are still there.
Thirteen is sci-fi in the old-school sense of the word – not spaceships and lasers and Star Wars knockoffs, but novels as thought experiments, taking concepts and hot-button issues going on in the world now and extrapolating them into the future, giving them a voice, face, and a plot. Here, Morgan takes on genetically-modified soldiers – in the future, civilization has been ‘bred’ into the population, and nations must create their own soldiers in the lab to do all the nasty work, which horrifies the regular folks. The warriors – throwbacks to a more primal, hunter, alpha-male part of mankind’s history – are quarantined and outlawed. The plot is ganked from Blade Runner, among many other sources, where a more reasonable genetically engineered warrior must track down his own kind for the public good.
Like Altered Carbon, the prose is tough, hard-boiled, and just this shy of brilliant. The science is sound and would make the basis for one hell of a movie. However, instead of just creating a nasty little tale, which would have been ideal, Morgan tries to get epic with things, and it’s why the novel didn’t quite work for me. His story (where America is divided Jesusland style) tends to meander and lacks focus. What he’s left us with is still interesting, to be sure, but the story doesn’t hum along the way it should. Worth reading? Sure. But just be aware of its flaws going in.
Oh – I took part in a book discussion group for the Kansas City Star last weekend. I’ll post links to my no-doubt stunning and insightful comments when they publish them – probably this Saturday. Watch as my brilliance gets left on the cutting-room editing-room floor.

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