Book Review: Thirteen by Richard K. Morgan

40448This novel cropped up on book shelves all over the place a few years ago and more recently in the “recommended” and “employee favorite” sections of our local bookstores. Always on the lookout for solid science fiction, especially explorations into genetic experimentation, I picked up the audio book with high hopes.

The Blurb:

The future isn’t what it used to be since Richard K. Morgan arrived on the scene. He unleashed Takeshi Kovacs–private eye, soldier of fortune, and all-purpose antihero–into the body-swapping, hard-boiled, urban jungle of tomorrow in Altered Carbon, Broken Angels, and Woken Furies, winning the Philip K. Dick Award in the process. In Market Forces, he launched corporate gladiator Chris Faulkner into the brave new business of war-for-profit. Now, in Thirteen, Morgan radically reshapes and recharges science fiction yet again, with a new and unforgettable hero in Carl Marsalis: hybrid, hired gun, and a man without a country . . . or a planet.

Marsalis is one of a new breed. Literally. Genetically engineered by the U.S. government to embody the naked aggression and primal survival skills that centuries of civilization have erased from humankind, Thirteens were intended to be the ultimate military fighting force. The project was scuttled, however, when a fearful public branded the supersoldiers dangerous mutants, dooming the Thirteens to forced exile on Earth’s distant, desolate Mars colony. But Marsalis found a way to slip back–and into a lucrative living as a bounty hunter and hit man before a police sting landed him in prison–a fate worse than Mars, and much more dangerous.

Luckily, his “enhanced” life also seems to be a charmed one. A new chance at freedom beckons, courtesy of the government. All Marsalis has to do is use his superior skills to bring in another fugitive. But this one is no common criminal. He’s another Thirteen–one who’s already shanghaied a space shuttle, butchered its crew, and left a trail of bodies in his wake on a bloody cross-country spree. And like his pursuer, he was bred to fight to the death. Still, there’s no question Marsalis will take the job. Though it will draw him deep into violence, treachery, corruption, and painful confrontation with himself, anything is better than remaining a prisoner. The real question is: can he remain sane–and alive–long enough to succeed?

My Thoughts?

Holy cow… This is a book for the “manly man”. High-tech gun slinging, new-age martial arts, genetically altered sex nymphs, cops on illicit drugs, explosions, blood and gore… This book pretty much smashed three high-intensity action films between it’s covers and called it a day.

Not really my normal preference for books, but I actually enjoyed it. The science was well written, intelligent and realistic, the possibilities of human gene manipulation presented with scary believability. With my educational background (I have my Doctorate in pharmacy, so a lot of biology/chemistry/pharmacology), usually I’m annoyed by the butchering and simplification of scientific concepts in fiction. I absolutely loved Morgan’s gene splicing science and subsequent description of the ensuing discrimination. And his detailed accounts of space travel, public backlash from human splicing, planetary colonization and exploitation, and the ensuing political tangles were spot on, ringing with a truth that made me feel downright depressed for the future of humanity.

My biggest complaint about this book is that there’s too much going on! The plots and subplots are woven together expertly, but there were definitely times where I felt completely lost. Wait, which gangster/politician/cop are they talking about now? The complex story line was intriguing,with constant twist and turns, but there were a few instances where the main character, Carl, made “intuitive leaps” in his investigations that weren’t at all intuitive. Carl is already a genetic splice with superhuman strength, ridiculous intelligence,  far-flung connections, and advanced fighting and weaponry skills… giving him impeccable intuition and crazy luck were just a bit too much. The character was just a bit too much.

But other than that, the other characters were very realistic, with human strengths and flaws. There were moments in this book that left me close to tears and other times that had me wanting to pump my fists in the air. Morgan’s book is high energy and high emotion, a literary roller coaster.

I give this book a strong four out of five stars. If you’re looking for an action packed ride and don’t mind a lot of sex, blood, and drugs, definitely pick up a copy of this book.



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