Richard K. Morgan – Thin Air (2018) Review

7/10

With a Richard Morgan novel, you know you’re in for a ride. The funny thing is, though, that he writes the same novel every time.

Thin Air is about a mercenary, genetically bred for violence and “decanted” from a hibernation tank, taking on the elite corporate power in a whirlwind of hardbitten noir cyberpunk violence. This may remind you of his first novel, Altered Carbon, in which an ex super soldier is “sleeved” into a new body to take on corporate power in violent noir cyberpunk investigation. But Thin Air is set in the same future as Morgan’s novel Thirteen, which is about a genetically enhanced killer who is hired to take on others of his kind. There is also the novel Market Forces, which is about a hired gun who, well… you get the point.

The best way to describe Thin Air would be to take the Crank movies with Jason Statham and situate them in a Blade Runner environment. Hakan Veil is genetically engineered to hibernate 4 months a year. When he revives he is “running hot”, his metabolism cranked up for maximum efficacy. He wakes up in the city Bradbury on Mars and for 500 pages he snarls, murders and fucks his way through the city. Makes me wonder whether Morgan had to let off some steam. There is a plot, with Veil hired as bodyguard of an auditor come to inspect the Martian colony. Veil takes two pages to describe his immediate physical attraction to this auditor so you know what’s going to happen.

The grim noir sensibility is taken to the extreme. When Altered Carbon came out, Morgan’s take on cyberpunk and action was electrifying, but he cranked up its characteristics to the point of a stylistic overkill. The cliches are fully embraced. Veil is relentlessly cynical about the world through which he moves. Everything is corrupt. He is always right. He is also the alpha male that no woman can resist. In short, this one is written for the fans. Newcomers should be politely redirected to Altered Carbon.

I’m overreacting a bit, but Veil is not a likeable guy. He talks a lot about himself – about how tough he is – but doesn’t actually do much. What Thin Air does very well, though, is making Mars come alive as a new frontier of human settlement. I felt like I was walking with Veil through the rough city Bradbury, seeing the neon lights under a paprika sky and feeling the stings of mosquitoes delivering gene code upgrades. This future world is the best part of the novel, while Veil’s story feels a bit aimless for a long time. He wanders around a lot and is juggling multiple balls in the air, and the story picks up the pace only in the second half.

Once Veil is on track of solving the mysteries, the story takes some familiar turns also seen in the other Morgan novels. He’s kidnapped, nothing personal of course, and then makes it personal.

So, I was wrong. Morgan doesn’t write the same novel every time. He writes increasingly simplified versions. His worldbuilding is top notch, but he can’t recapture the balance of his first novel, which had a better plot, more intriguing ideas and more interesting main character. When the action truly started, I had a great time and this is an interesting future to read about, but as a thriller it had flaws.

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9 Responses to Richard K. Morgan – Thin Air (2018) Review

  1. Bookstooge says:

    Sometimes authors need to just let well enough alone. Some ideas can be recycled over and over. Not having read Morgan, nor planning to based on the reviews I’ve seen of various books, I’d say he’s really skating the edge of becoming a non-entity in terms of originality.

    Glad that the book wasn’t overshadowed completely for you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Bookstooge says:

      I just realized you have author tags. How is that working for you? I’ve been playing with that idea on and off but am afraid if I start I’ll go all OCD on myself and try to update all my old posts. Considering how much work I still have to do just to get my blog in shape, one more thing seems like overkill.

      I like the idea just not sure how the reality would work for me. What’s your experience?

      Like

  2. terenceblake says:

    Thanks for this review, I haven’t read the novel yet. Yes, Morgan claims to need to let off steam from his teaching English to foreign students: ” You need the patience of a saint and the outlook of a hippie to survive in TEFL. There are actually teacher training books with titles like “Caring and Sharing in the EFL Classroom” – and worse still, if you’re going to do the job well, you have to buy into that dynamic, at least to a certain extent.

    You end up spending a lot of your time being kind and supportive to people who in some cases you’d really rather just punch out. I mean, what can you do when a student – a group of students actually – front you with something like “Ah, yes, Hitler – now he really knew how to handle the Jews.” That’s an extreme case, of course, but it did actually happen to a colleague of mine. And there are a host of less offensive but thoroughly unpleasant attitudes to be found in the heads of some of the people you teach. And for some reason these people seem to feel that the EFL classroom is the ideal place to just come out with all this shit. So Kovacs dripped out of me one corrosive drop at a time, as the side of my character I had to repress in order to do my job well”.

    Source: http://www.saxonbullock.com/2014/04/never-mind-the-cyberpunks-an-interview-with-richard-morgan-2002/

    Liked by 2 people

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