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Thin Air by Richard Morgan (book review)

June 10, 2021 | By | Reply More

Thin Air’ by Richard K. Morgan is standalone Science Fiction novel that takes place mainly on Mars.

Hakan Veil used to be an overrider, a genetically engineered trouble-shooter with an inbuilt minder/computer to help him with his assignments. His company sent him round the Solar System to deal with potential emergencies and some of them were rough. Then he made a mistake and got dumped on Mars with a lot of his peripherals removed from his body and broke.

Doing freelance security jobs is his only option. Except the person he was guarding got killed and he needs to redeem his good reputation. When Veil wakes up from a necessary hibernation, he is ‘running hot’, a combination of ‘exhilaration, obsessive focus, stress tension and nausea’. He kills the assassin and gets put into jail with a legal plan to get out.

Earth Oversight picks that moment to audit the Martian lottery for sending winners to Earth because one of the few never took up his ticket and went missing. The local police department have their hands full with helping the auditors and dealing with the fallout politics. They ask Veil to guard one of the auditors, Madison Madekwe, in return for releasing him. He has no choice but to accept. It should be a nice simple job, shouldn’t it?

Of course, it isn’t. First off, Madison does not like having a guard around and does her best to fob him off. He sticks with her as much as he dares, but her attitude does not make sense. So on top of the missing lottery winner, he has another mystery to solve. What is she up to?

He gets a friend to try to find out more about her. Only he comes back with some surprising non-answers. Why should she hide her identity? The deeper Veil digs, the bigger the stakes become and the higher the body count becomes.

Thin Air’ has a touch of noir, a hint of the frontier Wild West, a pinch of 007’s espionage and a soupcan of cyberpunk. It is a veritable melting pot of Science Fiction sub-genres rolled into the local space opera, which is what gives it a fictional richness.

Added to this mix is the particularly striking voice ‘Thin Air’ is written in. There are sentences like, ‘Gloom clung in the corners like the raw material for a pixel artist who’d never shown up’ and ‘Thick white boil of smoke; it came up fast around my legs, wrapped me like a sudden fog’, liberally scattered throughout the novel. They conjure up images so attuned to the setting that any idea of clichéd falsehood has vamoosed.

Given the number of characters involved, remember the body count has to be respectable for this type of novel, some significant players come across with fairly standard persona, like the hard-nosed seen it all before detective, the contemplative aloof boss of the Chinese triad and the kind-hearted brothel dancer. The transportation of Earth’s fictional characters to Mars does not work for me. We do not see the impact of the local environment on the way people have to live. It will not change them totally, but there should be some significant differences. For instance, I could not understand how a Martian-born person could survive easily under Earth’s gravity if they won a lottery ticket to go there. No explanation was forthcoming in the novel.

The fast-paced high-tension plot masks these shortfalls. There are twists, turns and reversals galore. If you want to read a roller coaster of a Martian action thriller, this is a good novel to pick. If you want a Martian literary Science Fiction novel, look for a different novel. But I must say, the body count was very satisfying in the end.

Rosie Oliver

May 2021

(pub: Gollancz, 2018. 538 page hardback. Price: £20.00 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-857-82627-5

pub: Del Rey/Random House. 616 page hardback. Price: $28.00 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-345-49312-5)

check out websites: www.golancz.co.uk, www.orionbooks.co.uk, www.randomhouse.com and www.richardmorgan.com

Category: Books, Scifi

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