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The Dark Defiles by Richard Morgan

Gollancz, 2015, 560 p. Borrowed from a threatened library.

 The Dark Defiles cover

Firstly I must say I am not the intended target for this sort of stuff. I did enjoy and admire Morgan’s earlier novels but they were solidly SF, with no tinge of fantasy. While there are again hints in the text that the setting of The Dark Defiles may be rooted in the real world – albeit unimaginably long ago in the book’s timeline – and machines that seem to be AIs which would make this a fantasy/SF cross, my misgivings about the second in Morgan’s Land Fit for Heroes series (which I reviewed here) are reinforced in this last of the trilogy. Yes, the main characters are rounded and resourceful and the politicking believable but the narrative focuses almost unremittingly on violence. And our hero has magic powers. I also found that the Dark Lords – and the even darker lords in this one – appear too late to convince entirely that they are worthy opponents.

Still, Morgan can undoubtedly write and his world is well-imagined, dense and detailed but this hand, that could have been a strength, is to my mind overplayed. Background is delivered so minutely that it often gets in the way of story, indeed at one point info dumping about some minor characters is actually expressed as a list. Apart from the externals – not only do we have gods to contend with but there are incidental lizard folk to be fought against and also here be dragons (well, one dragon) – like in so many fantasy tales the society against which this is portrayed is mediæval in form. Then again, without this, it is difficult to see how so many sword fights could be fitted in to 500 plus pages.

The book’s structure is both standard and unusual. We start with three viewpoint characters and follow them to the end (whatever that end is for each of them) but their tales bifurcate early as Ringil Eskiath is separated from Archeth Indamaninarmal and Egar Dragonbane; and never become one again. This is in contrast to most narratives and is a brave decision by Morgan. Yet, despite the cover saying “It ends here….” the ending does leave scope for more.

People do seem to relish this sort of thing; but I enjoyed Morgan’s SF better. I hope he returns to it for his next project.

Pedant’s corner:- didn’t use to be (used,) a missing full stop at the end of a line of dialogue, like a herdsmen (herdsman,) hingeing (the normal English spelling of this is hinging, but Morgan has spent part of his life in Scotland where the verb to “hing” means something entirely different hence hingeing would be my preference: hinging is used later though,) careful not apportion (not to apportion,) judgement of those beings (judgement of is for a case, for beings it would be judgement on,) to breath it (breathe,) sprung (sprang – which appears elsewhere,) bid it goodbye (bade it goodbye,) “are going make” (are going to make,) do the math (maths, if you please, x 2) “He’s going pull” (going to pull,) “the Talons of the Sun” (twice this phrase is given a singular verb, surely talons are plural?) gestures him join (to join.) This is a remarkably low strike count of literals for over 500 pages of densely printed text.

Locus 21st Century Poll

Following on from the Locus 20th century polls I posted about a few days ago this is their list for SF novels published from 2000 on.

1 Scalzi, John : Old Man’s War (2005)
2 Stephenson, Neal : Anathem (2008)
3* Bacigalupi, Paolo : The Windup Girl (2009)
4 Wilson, Robert Charles : Spin (2005)
5 Watts, Peter : Blindsight (2006)
6* Morgan, Richard : Altered Carbon (2002)
7 Collins, Suzanne : The Hunger Games (2008)
8 Gibson, William : Pattern Recognition (2003)
9* Miéville, China : The City & the City (2009)
10 Stross, Charles : Accelerando (2005)
11* Mitchell, David : Cloud Atlas (2004)
12* McDonald, Ian : River of Gods (2004)
13 McCarthy, Cormac : The Road (2006)
14* Harrison, M. John : Light (2002)
15= Willis, Connie : Black Out/All Clear (2010)
15=* Chabon, Michael : The Yiddish Policemen’s Union (2007)

7 out of 16. I’m obviously not keeping up with modern SF.

The Cold Commands by Richard Morgan

Golllancz, 2011, 406p.

 The Cold Commands cover

In Morgan’s last novel, The Steel Remains, the previous in his Land Fit for Heroes sequence, it was the differences between it and the usual fantasy opus that stood out. In The Cold Commands what struck me instead were the similarities.

For we have a mediæval type setting, an emperor, background wars, Dark Lords, sword wielding and sorcery, eldritch enemies from out of time; all soaked in blood and guts. The swearing also seemed a little overdone this time. There is, though, a hint at a science-fictional gloss to it, but only a hint. Yet unlike a fair swath of fantasy it is a convincing world Morgan has created here. But I wouldn’t want to live in it.

It is all revealed in the same gritty way as in The Steel Remains. We still have two gay agonists – though neither of them actually gets much sex here – and there is fine writing, if a touch too digressive at times. Morgan is at pains to describe his world, and it is a very detailed setting, every minor character has a credible past, and his or her own motivations, every muddy environment is suitably filthy.

Deep in the mix are musings on the impossibility of determining the difference between a demon and an angel except by their actions and on the inefficacy of torture.
The ending, when it came though, was rushed, the final confrontation over quickly. A pity, after nearly 400 pages.

It was only a minor scene in the narrative, but I found the gang rape problematic. It is not enough to have one character tell another, “Soldiers rape.” Perhaps they do. It is quite another matter to have your protagonist abet the act – encourage it even – whatever sins the victim may have committed against him or his family in the past; and for her to reveal that she has been raped before (as if that ameliorated anything) – and not just the once – whether she is being truthful to her past or only defiant. Yes, this reveals a degree of ambiguity in our identification with the protagonist, and at his moral complexity but!

Our heroes may have feet of clay and may have to do unspeakable things out of necessity, but when given a choice, don’t they still need to be better than the bad guys?

The Steel Remains by Richard Morgan

Gollancz, 2008, 345p.

The Steel Remains cover

This is the most unusual Fantasy I’ve read in years, perhaps ever. Not only does it have two gay main characters, there is also a high (but realistic) degree of swearing, both of which are normally conspicuous by their absence in the worlds of the Fantasy novel.

Ringil, a hero of the finally triumphant war against the lizard folk, grown tired of the political and social disappointments that peace time has brought, now lives quietly in a rural backwater, apart from dealing with the occasional corpsemites which inhabit and animate dead bodies in the local graveyard. A master swordsman, he dispatches the corpsemites with little difficulty. He is drawn back to the capital city when his mother asks for his help in rescuing a female cousin who has been sold into slavery as a result of the debts incurred by her deceased husband. Ringil does not suffer fools gladly and before embarking on his search manages to upset more than a few of the city’s bigwigs. He is also warned that a semi-mythical species known as dwenda may be behind the strange occurrences in the region where she has been taken.

Two of Ringil’s former wartime comrades, Egar, a plains-dwelling nomad chief, and Archeth, last of the Kiriath, are also given narrative strands. All three are fully rounded, Ringil and Archeth in particular seeming like real people with all their flaws.

If I have criticisms then they are that the dwenda, when they appear, despite their ability to flit in and out of the grey spaces, seem to be too like humans – indeed it might be possible to read The Steel Remains as Science Fiction rather than Fantasy – too many of the asides outstayed their welcome, it is a pity there is still a default mediaevality to the setting and the resolution is much as you might expect from a standard fantasy. But it’s all good rollicking stuff.

Morgan deserves huge credit for taking on the Fantasy genre and thoroughly shaking it up. If all Fantasy were like this I might read more of it.

Another List

This is a list of top 100 Science Fiction And Fantasy books from the website at NPR BOOKS to which I was directed via Ian Sales‘s blog. I got to it too late to take part in the poll NPR ran where you were to choose your favourite ten.

The usual applies; bold I’ve read, italics means I own but have not yet read it. ???? means I may have read it when I was (very) young but can’t actually remember.

The Acts Of Caine Series, by Matthew Woodring Stover
The Algebraist, by Iain M Banks
Altered Carbon, by Richard Morgan

American Gods, by Neil Gaiman
Anansi Boys, by Neil Gaiman
Anathem, by Neal Stephenson
Animal Farm, by George Orwell
The Anubis Gates, by Tim Powers

Armor, by John Steakley
The Baroque Cycle, by Neal Stephenson
Battlefield Earth, by L Ron Hubbard
Beggars In Spain, by Nancy Kress
The Belgariad, by David Eddings
The Black Company Series, by Glen Cook
The Black Jewels Series, by Anne Bishop
The Book Of The New Sun, by Gene Wolfe
Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley

Bridge Of Birds, by Barry Hughart
The Callahan’s Series, by Spider Robinson
A Canticle For Leibowitz, by Walter M Miller
The Cat Who Walked Through Walls, by Robert Heinlein
Cat’s Cradle , by Kurt Vonnegut
The Caves Of Steel, by Isaac Asimov
The Change Series, by SM Stirling
Childhood’s End, by Arthur C Clarke
Children Of God, by Mary Doria Russell
The Chronicles Of Amber, by Roger Zelazny

The Chronicles Of Thomas Covenant, The Unbeliever, by Stephen R Donaldson
The City And The City, by China Miéville
City And The Stars, by Arthur C Clarke

A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess
The Codex Alera Series, by Jim Butcher
The Coldfire Trilogy, by CS Friedman
The Commonwealth Saga, by Peter F Hamilton
The Company Wars, by CJ Cherryh
The Conan The Barbarian Series, by Robert Howard
Contact, by Carl Sagan
Cryptonomicon, by Neal Stephenson
The Crystal Cave, by Mary Stewart
The Culture Series, by Iain M Banks
The Dark Tower Series, by Stephen King
The Day of Triffids, by John Wyndham
Deathbird Stories, by Harlan Ellison

The Deed of Paksennarion Trilogy, by Elizabeth Moon
The Demolished Man, by Alfred Bester
The Deverry Cycle, by Katharine Kerr
Dhalgren, by Samuel R. Delany
The Diamond Age, by Neal Stephenson
The Difference Engine, by William Gibson & Bruce Sterling
The Dispossessed, by Ursula K LeGuin
Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? by Philip K Dick.

Don’t Bite The Sun, by Tanith Lee
Doomsday Book, by Connie Willis
Dragonflight, by Anne McCaffrey
Dreamsnake, by Vonda McIntyre
The Dune Chronicles, by Frank Herbert

Earth, by David Brin
Earth Abides, by George R Stewart
The Eisenhorn Omnibus, by Dan Abnett
The Elric Saga, by Michael Moorcock
Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card
Eon, by Greg Bear
The Eyes Of The Dragon, by Stephen King
The Eyre Affair, by Jasper Fforde
The Faded Sun Trilogy, by CJ Cherryh
Fafhrd & The Gray Mouser Series, by Fritz Leiber
Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury
The Farseer Trilogy, by Robin Hobb
The Female Man, by Joanna Russ
The Fionavar Tapestry Trilogy, by Guy Gavriel Kay.
A Fire Upon The Deep, by Vernor Vinge
The First Law Trilogy, by Joe Abercrombie
Flowers For Algernon, by Daniel Keyes
The Foreigner Series, by CJ Cherryh
The Forever War, by Joe Haldeman
The Foundation Trilogy, by Isaac Asimov

Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley
The Gaea Trilogy, by John Varley
The Gap Series, by Stephen R Donaldson
The Gate To Women’s Country, by Sheri S Tepper
Going Postal, by Terry Pratchett
The Gone-Away World, by Nick Harkaway
The Gormenghast Trilogy, by Mervyn Peake (two only, the third is tbr)
Grass, by Sheri S Tepper
Gravity’s Rainbow, by Thomas Pynchon
The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood

Hard-Boiled Wonderland And The End of The World, by Haruki Murakami
The Heechee Saga, by Frederik Pohl
The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, by Douglas Adams
The Hollows Series, by Kim Harrison
House Of Leaves, by Mark Danielewski
The Hyperion Cantos, by Dan Simmons
I Am Legend, by Richard Matheson
I, Robot, by Isaac Asimov ????
The Illuminatus! Trilogy, by Robert Shea & Robert Anton Wilson
The Illustrated Man, by Ray Bradbury
The Incarnations Of Immortality Series, by Piers Anthony
The Inheritance Trilogy, by NK Jemisin
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, by Susanna Clarke
A Journey To The Center Of The Earth, by Jules Verne
Kindred, by Octavia Butler
The Kingkiller Chronicles, by Patrick Rothfuss
Kraken, by China Miéville
The Kushiel’s Legacy Series, by Jacqueline Carey
Last Call, by Tim Powers
The Last Coin, by James P Blaylock
The Last Herald Mage Trilogy, by Mercedes Lackey – never read it.
The Last Unicorn, by Peter S Beagle
The Lathe Of Heaven, by Ursula K LeGuin.
The Left Hand Of Darkness, by Ursula K LeGuin

The Legend Of Drizzt Series, by RA Salvatore
The Lensman Series, by EE Smith
The Liaden Universe Series, by Sharon Lee & Steve Miller
The Lies Of Locke Lamora, by Scott Lync.
Lilith’s Brood, by Octavia Butler
Little, Big, by John Crowley
The Liveship Traders Trilogy, by Robin Hobb
Lord Of Light, by Roger Zelazny
The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy, by JRR Tolkien (one only)
Lord Valentine’s Castle, by Robert Silverberg
Lucifer’s Hammer, by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle

Lud-in-the-Mist, by Hope Mirrlees
The Magicians, by Lev Grossman
The Malazan Book Of The Fallen Series, by Steven Erikson
The Man In The High Castle, by Philip K Dick.
The Manifold Trilogy, by Stephen Baxter
The Mars Trilogy, by Kim Stanley Robinson
The Martian Chronicles, by Ray Bradbury ?????
Memory And Dream, by Charles de Lint
Memory, Sorrow, And Thorn Trilogy, by Tad Williams
Mindkiller, by Spider Robinson
The Mistborn Series, by Brandon Sanderson
The Mists Of Avalon, by Marion Zimmer Bradley
The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, by Robert Heinlein
Mordant’s Need, by Stephen Donaldson
More Than Human, by Theodore Sturgeon
The Mote In God’s Eye, by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle
The Naked Sun, by Isaac Asimov

The Neanderthal Parallax Trilogy, by Robert J Sawyer
Neuromancer, by William Gibson
Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman
The Newsflesh Trilogy, by Mira Grant
The Night’s Dawn Trilogy, by Peter F Hamilton
Novels Of The Company, by Kage Baker
Norstrilia, by Cordwainer Smith
The Number Of The Beast, by Robert Heinlein
Old Man’s War, by John Scalzi
On Basilisk Station, by David Weber
The Once And Future King, by TH White
Oryx And Crake, by Margaret Atwood
The Otherland Tetralogy, by Tad Williams
The Outlander Series, by Diana Gabaldan
Parable Of The Sower, by Octavia Butler
The Passage, by Justin Cronin
Pattern Recognition, by William Gibson
Perdido Street Station, by China Miéville
The Prestige, by Christopher Priest

The Pride Of Chanur, by CJ Cherryh
The Prince Of Nothing Trilogy, by R Scott Bakker
The Princess Bride, by William Goldman
Rainbows End, by Vernor Vinge
Rendezvous With Rama, by Arthur C Clarke
Replay, by Ken Grimwood
Revelation Space, by Alistair Reynolds
Riddley Walker, by Russell Hoban
The Riftwar Saga, by Raymond E Feist
Ringworld, by Larry Niven

The Riverworld Series, by Philip Jose Farmer
The Road, by Cormac McCarthy
The Saga Of Pliocene Exile, by Julian May
The Saga Of Recluce, by LE Modesitt Jr
The Sandman Series, by Neil Gaiman
The Sarantine Mosaic Series, by Guy Gavriel Kay
A Scanner Darkly, by Philip K Dick
The Scar, by China Miéville

The Shannara Trilogy, by Terry Brooks
The Shattered Chain Trilogy, by Marion Zimmer Bradley
The Silmarillion, by JRR Tolkien
The Sirens Of Titan, by Kurt Vonnegut
Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut

Small Gods, by Terry Pratchett
Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson
The Snow Queen, by Joan D Vinge
Solaris, by Stanislaw Lem
Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury ?????
Song for the Basilisk, by Patricia McKillip
A Song Of Ice And Fire Series, by George R. R. Martin
The Space Trilogy, by CS Lewis
The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell
The Stainless Steel Rat Books, by Harry Harrison
Stand On Zanzibar, by John Brunner
The Stand, by Stephen King
Stardust, by Neil Gaiman
The Stars My Destination, by Alfred Bester
Starship Troopers, by Robert Heinlein
Stations Of The Tide, by Michael Swanwick
Steel Beach, by John Varley
Stranger In A Strange Land, by Robert Heinlein
Sunshine, by Robin McKinley
The Sword Of Truth, by Terry Goodkind
The Swordspoint Trilogy, by Ellen Kushner
The Tales of Alvin Maker, by Orson Scott Card.
The Temeraire Series, by Naomi Novik
The Thrawn Trilogy, by Timothy Zahn
Tigana, by Guy Gavriel Kay
Time Enough For Love, by Robert Heinlein
The Time Machine, by HG Wells ?????
The Time Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger
To Say Nothing Of The Dog, by Connie Willis
The Troy Trilogy, by David Gemmell
Ubik, by Philip K Dick
The Uplift Saga, by David Brin
The Valdemar Series, by Mercedes Lackey
VALIS, by Philip K Dick
Venus On The Half-Shell, by Kilgore Trout/Philip Jose Farmer
The Vlad Taltos Series, by Steven Brust
The Vorkosigan Saga, by Lois McMaster Bujold
The Vurt Trilogy, by Jeff Noon (the first certainly)
The War Of The Worlds, by HG Wells
Watchmen, by Alan Moore
Watership Down, by Richard Adams
The Way Of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson
Way Station, by Clifford D Simak
We, by Yevgeny Zamyatin

The Wheel Of Time Series, by Robert Jordan
When Gravity Fails, by George Alec Effinger
Wicked, by Gregory Maguire
Wild Seed, by Octavia Butler
The Windup Girl, by Paolo Bacigalupi
World War Z, by Max Brooks
The Worm Ouroboros, by ER Eddison
The Xanth Series, by Piers Anthony
The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, by Michael Chabon
1632, by Eric Flint
1984, by George Orwell
2001: A Space Odyssey, by Arthur C Clarke

20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, by Jules Verne ????

Many of these I’ve never heard of. Quite a few do not belong on a modern best of SF and Fantasy list. The Asimovs and the Doc Smith in particular. These were works from the early days and while bathed in the glow of nostalgia do not have the minimum of literary quality I look for when I consider books to be good.

I’m also agnostic about whether some of the recently published books on the list will stand the test of time.

Notable omissions: the books of Michael Coney and Michael Bishop for starters.

Top 50 Gollancz Book Titles

Over at Orion Publishing Group their Gollancz imprint is celebrating 50 years of publishing SF. They’re having a vote to see which of their chosen titles is the best. There are two categories, one for SF, one for Fantasy.

I thought I’d do this as an Ian Sales type meme.

The ones in bold I have read.

Gollancz top 25 SF titles:-

A Case of Conscience by James Blish
Altered Carbon by Richard Morgan
Brasyl by Ian McDonald
The Dispossessed by Ursula Le Guin
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick
Dune by Frank Herbert

Fairyland by Paul McAuley
The Female Man by Joanna Russ (I have now read this.)
The Forever War by Joe Haldeman
Flood by Stephen Baxter
Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes *
Gateway by Frederik Pohl
Hyperion by Dan Simmons
Last and First Men by Olaf Stapledon
More than Human by Theodore Sturgeon
Pavane by Keith Roberts
Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke
Revelation Space by Alastair Reynolds
Ringworld by Larry Niven
Stand on Zanzibar by John Brunner
Tau Zero by Poul Anderson
The Time Machine by H. G. Wells
The Separation by Christopher Priest
The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester

Yellow Blue Tibia by Adam Roberts

* as a short story.

As you can see I’ve read all but five of these.

Gollancz top 25 Fantasy titles:-

Beauty by Sheri S. Tepper
Best Served Cold by Joe Abercrombie
Book of the New Sun (Vol 1&2) (Vol 3&4) by Gene Wolfe
The Book of Skulls by Robert Silverberg

Conan Volume One by Robert E. Howard
Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris
Elric by Michael Moorcock
Eric by Terry Pratchett
Fevre Dream by George R. R. Martin

The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson
The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan
Graceling by Kristin Cashore
Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill
I Am Legend by Richard Matheson
The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch
Little, Big by John Crowley
Lud-in-the-Mist by Hope Mirrlees
Memoirs of a Master Forger by William Heaney
Mythago Wood by Robert Holdstock
The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
The Runes of the Earth by Stephen Donaldson
Something Wicked this Way Comes by Ray Bradbury
Tales of the Dying Earth by Jack Vance
Viriconium by M. John Harrison
Wolfsangel by M. D. Lachlan

Only seven from the Fantasy list, though.

For what it’s worth I voted for Keith Roberts’s Pavane and Little, Big by John Crowley.

Writers’ Bloc Awayday (Almost)

I reproduce below the latest information from my spoken word performance group, Writers’ Bloc.

You’ll see the theme of this event chimes with a couple of the posts I have made recently.


You may be wondering what has happened to Writers’ Bloc. Well, preparation is in progress for some exciting new shows, but in the interim, some of us will be gathering with some well-known associates for a major event at Glasgow’s Aye Write! book festival next month:

Leading SF and fantasy novelists Richard Morgan, Ken MacLeod, Hal Duncan, Deborah J. Miller and Mike Cobley discuss the shape of things to come with editor, critic and general ne’er-do-well Andrew J. Wilson at “The Early Days of a Better Future?”.

Can things only get better or do we have to look over a mountain of rubble to see beyond the next fifty years? Scottish writers are leading a renaissance in British speculative fiction, but does our national identity have any future at all? Are rhetorical questions all we’ve got to offer?

Join the panel for a lively debate punctuated with short, sharp and shocking stories — and some very special surprise guests.


Sunday 7 March, 20:00-21:30 at the Mitchell Library, Glasgow G3 7DN.

Tickets: 7.00 (6.00 concessions).

Book early to avoid disappointment and ensure that it’s not just
Glaswegians who get to have their say.

We hope to see you there!

Writers’ Bloc.

better read than dead

Book Sales Again

Someone else has noticed the strange book sale policy of Fife Libraries.

I was there again on Saturday morning (21/3/09) but this time didn’t find anything I hadn’t already got.

I did notice that they had an unread paperback copy of Richard Morgan’s Steel Remains* which unlike the version here on Amazon had no cover art. On the front instead there was a written passage from and puff for the novel. It was also stamped on the fly leaf – not with “Kirkcaldy Libraries – Withdrawn” but, “Waterstone’s, High Street, Kirkcaldy.” Bizarre!

Was it perhaps a review copy?

*The hardback is on my to read list.

Black Man by Richard Morgan

Gollancz, 2007
This novel is published in the US as Fearless.

The first thing is to ponder on the reason for the alternative title. Black Man obviously does not carry the same freight in Britain and Europe as it would have in the US. I do not know for sure but suspect that Morgan’s US publisher took fright at the thought of a restricted readership had the title been the same in the US as in Europe. Perhaps now, with the change of President, that reasoning may no longer hold so true, but only time will tell.

In the book, the US has fragmented into several parts including the Angeline Freeport, the Rim States (most of the seaboard) and the Confederated Republic (or Jesusland, effectively a fundamentalist version of the old Confederacy) and a rump Union.
Carl Marsalis is a variant thirteen, part of the Osprey programme, a human genetically modified to be in essence effective fighting machines, a throwback to an earlier form of human supposedly bred out when agricultural settlement took place. In this world other genetic modifications exist, such as hibernoids (who sleep for four months but are active the other eight) bonobos (sexually compliant females) but because of their nature (unnature?) all such “twists” are looked down on by “normal” humans but it is variant thirteens who are feared by the general populace. As a result they are either exiled on Mars or quarantined in areas called tracts. That Osprey and its American equivalent Lawman failed in their attempts to gengineer effective soldiery was because thirteens do not like obeying orders.
Marsalis also happens to be black, and British, though the action is set almost wholly in the Americas. He is employed by UNGLA to track down other thirteens who have escaped the reservation and to kill them if they do not surrender. Returning from one such mission he is arrested in Florida – part of Jesusland – held for months and released only when agents of the Western Nations Colony Initiative (COLIN, who seem to run the tracts and Mars colonies) need him to help find a renegade thirteen from Mars, with an interesting sideline in cannibalism, who has been brought back to Earth as an assassin.
The book is intricately plotted; indeed a less complex novel than this would have finished about 7/10ths of the way through when Marsalis finally catches up with the quarry. It is a measure of Morgan’s confidence that the book does not stop there. The viewpoint characters are various and varied with believable (mostly) motivations.
Given the scenario it is not surprising that there is violence here similar to Morgan’s Takeshi Kovacs novels. (I must say however that I preferred the, to me, more grounded and slightly less visceral Market Forces.)
Having said that, in Black Man Morgan is more assured than in any of his previous outings. This world seems deeper, richer, more textured. One of his (non gene-enhanced) characters states that there is no more war because humans have learned the cost is too high. This is notwithstanding the assertion by another thirteen that they, not the milque-toast cudlips (the pejorative name variants use for normals) are the true humans. The high body count in the book also runs counter to the argument.

However, there seems no good reason why Marsalis is black. Other thirteens do not seem to be – or at least are not described as such. Is it solely as a metaphorical representation of the menace inherent in thirteen status? If true, that decision is surely worthy of examination. But I will trust Morgan’s intentions as stated in his dedication that he hates bigotry, cruelty and injustice with an unrelenting rage. His sympathy for the variants does shine through.
This was a world I was immersed in and did not want to surface from. As an example of the SF thriller Black Man is seriously good stuff.

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