Monday, July 30, 2007

Black Man

Richard K. Morgan writes gritty, no holds barred sci-fi that feels as real as a kick in the nuts, and Black Man is no exception. This novel does exactly what good sci-fi should do; start with reality, take an aspect of that to its extreme, and watch it play out to its logical conclusion, all the while telling an engaging story with believable characters and unraveling a mystery that keeps you on the edge of your seat. A tall order perhaps, but as usual Morgan delivers on his promise.

That's what the blurb on the back of the book would have said if I were a famous sci-fi author. Instead, there's some high praise from Peter F. Hamilton, who shares quite a few traits with Morgan, as I've already pointed out. That's fine by me, although I still think my blurb is better and more to the point.

The black man referred to by the title of the novel, Carl Marsalis, turns out to be an african european who is genetically designed for war, a specimen of the thirteenth official variant of the human DNA, which emulates the hunters and gatherers of yesteryear. So called "13s" aren't known for their team building skills, but Marsalis grudgingly pairs up with female COLIN agent Sevgi Ertekin to track down a fellow 13 that has somehow escaped the Mars colony, crash landed on Earth, and is now on a seemingly random killing spree. As "out there" as this storyline may seem, it boils down to a surprisingly realistic mystery sprinkled with some social and religious commentary that is well worth considering. For some, Morgan's sci-fi may even be too realistic, since it doesn't really offer much in the way of escapism as it deals with racism, religion, politics and death. It's really more of a hardboiled novel, with sex, violence and the stereotypically cocky, uncaring male protagonist, although it will eventually surprise you again with depth of character and heart wrenching developments that had me sniveling in a crowded subway car, making a fool of myself.

I guess that's the trademark brilliance of Morgan's novels; they have everything.

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