Black Man/Thirteen by Richard Morgan


Black ManTh1rt3en by Richard Morgan

560 pages

Published by Gollancz, May 2007)

ISBN-10: 0575075139

ISBN-13: 978-0575075139


Comment by Hobbit / Mark Yon


See also Rob Bedford’s review (link HERE.) Rob has given the plot in detail already, so I won’t repeat those details here.


My first reaction was what a brave book this was in today’s current political and social climate. Richard, who could hardly be accused of holding much back in his earlier novels, has extrapolated some very interesting and scary ideas of the future. In doing so he has included comments on race (though the name ‘Black Man’ has clearly more than one meaning here), and society, politics, religion, economics, science and space pioneering. At a time when the discussion of such issues in the real world can be seen to be both difficult and controversial, this book manages to look at these issues through a future perspective. It deserves praise for doing so.  


This is not a Kovacs novel. In fact, whereas the Kovacs novels (Altered Carbon and so on) looked at a society where death could be avoided through the process of ‘sleeving’ (being transported or downloaded to another body), here death is a very real part of life. There are deaths aplenty here as the actions of a Thirteen is to act as assassin and gun-for-hire. By moving away from his earlier series, Richard has been able to fashion a future which is a scary extrapolation of current world events. One of SF’s greatest tricks is to highlight issues of the present by examining their potential consequences in the future, and this is something that is very noticeable in this book. Punishment, internment, segregation, political and religious differences – elements of this story are clearly mirrored in the world of the 21st century.


Richard also dips into SF tradition by having the idea of the key character as an ‘outsider’. From AE Van Vogt’s mutant Slan to the present day, the idea that the protagonist is not one of the majority but separate in some way, is a common theme. Here this produces both sympathy for Carl Marsalis and allows the reader to see what it means to be different in a future society.


The book started very well for me. The middle section I found slower, where there is less action and more dialogue driven examination. With perseverance though, the book picked up for me at the end. My overall impression at the end was a fully realised world, clearly thought out, though not a happy one.  At times, its bleakness made the book hard going, though it is a read worth finishing.


 Mark Yon / Hobbit, April 2007.

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