Six Impossible Things

A Blog About Fiction and Reading

Thirteen

ThirteenThirteen by Richard K. Morgan

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As if Market Forces weren’t dark enough, Richard K. Morgan returns to his nihilistic look at the future, this time through a race of genetically modified “variant” human beings, who have been bred and raised to be more aggressive, more violent, and more deadly than humans have been in a very long time.  The idea is that we, as a culture, have processed out those tendencies as part of being civilized, and we’re no longer very good as soldiers.  Enter the variant “Thirteens,” who are supposed to be the perfect soldiers in the future.

Note “supposed to be”; it wouldn’t be a nihilistic look at the future without a little mucking up of things along those lines.  Shoot, what reader, looking at that theme, wouldn’t start asking questions?  Morgan doesn’t keep it simplified, either.  He addresses cultural and race wars (the Chinese are viewed as the evil race, and there’s an entire criminal subculture on Mars), the growth of religion in politics (the US South is renamed “Jesusland” in this book), and the effects of a long-term memory in a short-term memory society (the main Thirteen in the book is a black man).  It’s amazing, and thoughtful, but probably best for small doses.  Given that this is a 500+-page book, small doses means that the book may take a while.

On its surface, Thirteen is a mystery thriller, with layers upon layers of mystery and deception.  It succeeds admirably at this, and just may sneak under your radar, given the overall theme and atmosphere of the book.  I was surprised, afterward, at how complex the plot was, and how well-constructed it was.  Morgan managed to take a lot of disparate elements of the story, seemingly planted just to set the tone and atmosphere of the novel, and weave them together into a satisfying conclusion.  But sharp readers are going to notice this only after submerging themselves in this future culture that is, collectively, us.

I tend to pick up moods from the books that I read, so I was careful in how much I dove into the book.  I didn’t want to take a marathon approach to reading it, but neither did I want to spend an overly long time in that world, either.  For all the nihilism in Thirteen, Morgan does give the future some redeeming qualities, but these are scattered about, partly to move the plot along, and partly to keep us from leaping off of a tall building midway through the book.  It’s not depressing so much as it is bleak and hopeless, but there are enough hopeful moments to keep us reading and wanting things to get better.

The question we have at the end of the novel is just that: Will things get better?  It’s hard to say.  Morgan doesn’t judge the present through this novel, or offer any solutions.  He just presents a possible future, and shows us where that will take us.  The rest, I suppose, is up to us.

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September 10, 2007 - Posted by | Adult Fiction, Reviews

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