Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Pistol grip pump on my lap at all times

Richard Morgan's Thirteen is his best book yet, and given that Morgan is one of the best writers of science fiction in practice today, that says quite a bit. While the book is less violent, than prior books, it is thematically consistent. In all his books, Morgan plays to our fascination with carnage, but puts the spotlight on the human cost of violence. In this book that cost is one of his great themes, both in terms of victims but also showing the horrid impact on a person, the genetic variant thirteen of the title, purposely designed to be more violent.

Genetics as destiny plays a big role in the story, but so does the idea of feminine vs. masculine culture. Morgan presents an alternate take of Jihad vs. McWorld debate, putting nativist, anti-science, and non-cooperative societies in conflict with cooperative, post-national societies. The latter is represented by the EU, and seceded elements of the former US. The masculine societies are represented by much of the Islamic world and Republic, which is essentially Red State America populated by some horrible Rush Limbaugh/Nancy Grace devolution. Call it first stage Idiocracy if you like.

All this idea stuff is neato, but there has to be a good story and Morgan builds another good one. This time a renegade Thirteen hijacks a freighter from Mars and starts going on a North American killing spree. Marsalis, the thirteen of the title, is hired to track him down. Marsalis himself is constantly pulled in the direction of violence and can barely control his instincts.

And in a nice trick, Morgan lets us ( and by extension himself) have our cake and eat it too. Marsalis realizes that society is better off without the ultra-violent, but then there are some people that just need their ass kicked. So while, we approve of the more cooperative society, we get to savor the righteous violence. Thanks for that.

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