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.