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January 7, 2009

Black Man - Richard Morgan

Black Man by Richard Morgan (or Thirteen as it is published in the US) is a book I like better now I've finished it than when I was reading it. Which is strange in a few ways. 

First of all the language is really good, much better than in the only other Morgan book I have read, Altered Carbon, (which was of course his first novel and Black Man is his fifth). There were passages that were worth lingering over, something that pleasantly surprised me given my assumption that Morgan wrote fast-paced violent thrillers. 

Also, the setting is a seriously thought out near future, with some good extrapolations and a believable and intriguing world. The use of genetic modifications and their consequences are well done, the start of the story is genuinely creepy, and Mars is depicted in the most interesting way that have come across in a long time.

The style is bang up to date, very cool, very now, built on the shoulders of all the noirish cyberpunky SF that's gone before it. The characters are good, slowly revealed and with no broad stroke simple black and white painting. I was genuinely confused about how I felt for the main character, Marsalis, the eponymous Black Man / Thirteen, and that confusion resolved itself neatly at the end collapsing into a single state.

And yet... I didn't love it. A lot of the book I was waiting for things to kick off, the slow burn tension leading me to that assumption that everything was going to explode at any moment. Yet the action arrives in quick bursts and the majority of the plot is a crime mystery thriller. Except really the book is about the characters, and the actual mystery plot is complicated and nigh-on impossible to guess. This only became to clear to me once I had finished, hence my statement that it was a book that I like better now I've finished it than when I was reading it.

Don't get me wrong, Black Man is good Science Fiction, and a good novel, and I can understand why it won the Clarke Award, but I can't help feeling I should have loved it instead of appreciated it. 

5 Comments

Pretty much my exact thoughts. I didn't love it, but enjoyed reading it. I'm surprised it was a Clarke winner still, but if this is only the second Morgan book you have read, I would seriously recommend Woken Furies. Awesome book, third in the series of Takeshi Kovacs books (Broken Angel isn't amazing).

If you like Black Man, you should also read Market Forces which is another very near future type story, but things have gone down a more corporate route... with a liberal dash of Death Race 2000.

Nope, Broken Angels can be treated as stand-alone really. It's set a few years after Altered Carbon and has Kovacs back as a mercenary for hire in some tin-pot war on another planet when him and his unit decide to go treasure hunting and find more than they bargain for. It has no bearing on what happens in Woken Furies, which is about Kovacs returning to Harlan's World, meeting up with old 'friends' and enacting some serious revenge.

Personally, I wasn't that keen on Broken Angels, which was good but unremarkable. Woken Furies was perfect in my mind - though if you didn't like Altered Carbon much, I don't know if you'll like WF either, to be honest.

I thought Thirteen was a well written crime novel but a very disappointing science fiction story. The scifi aspects of this story were so minor as to be distracting. This story would probably sell better if RM took out all the scifi and sold it as a cop novel.

I was deeply disapointed with Black Man :(

I love reading Morgan; someone whom I put on par with Peter F. Hamilton in the SCI-FI dept.

Having read his 1st 3 books, Altered Carbon, Fallen Angels and Woken Furies, I was geared up for a rollercoaster of a novel (I skipped Market Forces on account of the title!)

A few points to make on his Takeshi Kovacs novels. I whole heartedly agree with AC and WF comments above; exemplary Sci-Fi novels. Esp. WF.

Having read a few sub standard Sci-Fi novels recently, I decided to re-visit the Takeski Kovacs trilogy and was surprised to find that Broken Angels was amazing the second time round! Maybe it was the fact that I'd read those sub standard novels or maybe because I got my TK fix once more ;)

Having just finished BM, I say that James hit the nail on the head with his summary although I didn't appreciate the book as much as he did and can't see why it received any awards :|

Maybe if I had read this book before the TK trilogy I would have liked it a whole lot more... I found that the novel just irritated me! The main character, Carl (this name really pissed me off for some reason), seemed to be a diluted form of TK. The plot was boring and the ending was quite predictable. I was irked by the pace of the novel and all the technologies used seem to be from the TK universe which to me came across as quite unoriginal.

Personally, I'd skip this one and hope that he does another TK novel or something a bit more out of his depth as a challenge.

When I mention Peter F. Hamilton, I equate the Morgan's BM novel to Hamilton's abortion of a novel 'Misspent Youth' - seriously don't even bother with that one either.

Sorry to be so negative but that's just how I felt with this one...