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3.5 out of 5 stars
Black Man (GOLLANCZ S.F.)
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42 of 46 people found the following review helpful
If you've read Richard Morgan's other sci-fi novels, especially those featuring Takeshi Kovacs, then you might think twice about picking up Black Man. It's set in a different scenario and Kovacs (a compelling and complicated character) is no where to be found. So the unfamiliar setting and the weird cover design (it almost seems deliberately constructed to distance this book from Morgan's established series) might sway you to put down Black Man and buy something else instead.
Mistake!
The world of Black Man is another brilliantly constructed, plausible near future. It's scarily close to ours, so many of the superstates are recognisable evolutions of the current political structure. America has fractured into a bible-belt 'JesusLand' and the Union. The major global superpower is the Rim (the Pacific Rim). The technology is based on extrapolations of what we have now -- evercrete replaces concrete, and coffee comes in instant-heat containers -- but the majority of the players are still humans. Just.
There's a colony growing on Mars, corporate influence corrupting the push into space, space-elevators lifting raw materials to and from the surface of earth into low orbit, and shuttle running on the long, long journey to and from Mars.

Into this situation come a set of believable characters; the augmented, hyped-up 'good' guy; the demobbed uber-soldier spawned by genetic experiment who shouldn't be on earth but is; the weary, chemical-assisted police woman. Their paths knit together as the plot progresses -- and Morgan nevers shies away from hot-blooded action and eye-raising plot twists. The only downside is the sheer volume of new stuff which is slung at the reader in the first couple of chapters; you have to get up to speed with a whole new universe pretty quickly. The political situation is slippery and take some getting used to, as do the fragmenting and re-forming factions of current societies. There's a lot of info to absorb so you feel like you're playing catch up until the plot really hots up.

Then the action is brutal and harsh, and the social comment is cutting. Black Man is set around 100 years ahead of us, and most of Morgan's insights apply to here and now. He sees a future when the 'feminisation' of society has led us to breed throwback warriors -- it's a bleak idea, that all our progress is what undoes us in the end.

So initially Black Man wasn't what I really wanted to read, because what I really wanted to read was another Kovaks novel. But Black Man grabbed and held my attention, and I rattled through it in three days (not bad, given its substantial length). More than that, I'd buy another book set in this scenario, so Morgan has plainly got it right...
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
After reading the "Kovacs" trilogy, and being totally blown away by the authors aggressive noir style and amazing storylines I was left wanting more of the same then hearing of mixed reviews for "Market Forces" and "Black man", I thought I'd try Black Man and immediately was transported into the worrying feasible near future a'la Morgan!
Surprisingly, if anything I enjoyed this book even more than Altered Carbon etc.
Other reviews will give the storyline, I just want to affirm to all those "on the fence" over this novel having read the Kovacs books...don't hesitate...it's a violent, scary ride through a not too distant future where world order has been stood on it's head and prejudice abounds. Richard Morgan certainly writes a mean book,guaranteed not to disappoint.
My acquaintance with this author came about by accident, by buying at the airport "The Steel remains" an amazing and very different fantasy novel and what a lucky buy as it led me to several of the most exciting and thought provoking reads of my life.
So despite mixed reviews, I will be buying "Market Forces" and eagerly await his second and third book in his fantasy offerings, which I gather are in progress.
I just hope though that Richard Morgan doesn't leave SF behind because although I have not been a great reader of that genre, I loved the books and I'm sure this man has many a great SF idea churning around in that dare I say it scary mind!
Summery.....Fantastic book! Warning:Not suitable for vegetarians!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
This dark cyberpunk novel is another proof that RICHARD MORGAN is the cutting edge of the genre. In a not so distant future, Mars has been colonized and genetic altered humans have been created, used up and then discarded into the margins of society - with prejudice. Hunting down renegade Thirteens (augmented alpha-males that should only choose between exile to Mars or never leaving their reservation) is Carl Marsalis, another Thirteen with an agenda of his own.
In the backdrop of a dystopic yet all too human society several paradigm shifts away, this roller-coaster ride starts off with a bang and never slows down.

Ever since his first novel (ALTERED CARBON), Richard Morgan has conjured up a rich world full of images, sounds, scents and tastes that, although is science fiction, it never ceases to be recognizably and timelessly human. His imagination has given this future such depth that allows him to move effortlessly back and forth in time between books. I can only compare him to another titan of the genre : FRANK HERBERT of DUNE fame.

The Agricultural revolution domesticating humans? Highly probable. Together with the emergence of religious predisposition and reduced aggressiveness, the [implied] Social Selection favoring docile humans was a good way for societies to consolidate and thrive. As a NeuroBiologist I was very impressed to find his understanding of evolutionary NeuroSciences on the mark.

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!!!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 2 February 2012
I bought this on a recommendation from Amazon's robots, because they'd spotted that I like William Gibson - especially the earlier, more action-y stuff. I wasn't expecting too much actually, I thought from the blurb it would be an entertainingly workmanlike cyberpunk thriller.

I'm very pleased to have been wrong.

Sure it starts out like just another Blade Runner, with slightly too much `techy' language thrown in to remind us that it's set some hundred years in the future. (Although it does certainly work well on that level. Main protagonist Marsalis can't stay out of trouble for more than half a chapter.)

As the book progresses though, its grip tightens until you can't bear to do anything else but read what happens next.

I see from some of the other reviews that not everyone liked the `twist' about two-thirds of the way through the book where Morgan, in one of the book's few talky chapters, rotates the entire plot through 180 degrees and the whole thing clicks together like a Rubik Cube. I loved it.

It reminded me of a similar pivotal scene in The Maltese Falcon, justifying the `noir' as well as the `tech' in my headline.

This book is solid entertainment, and if it really isn't Morgan's best then I'm even more glad that I've just loaded my iPad Kindle app with his entire back catalogue.

And a great ending. Not 100% original, but absolutely right.
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32 of 37 people found the following review helpful
Carl Marsalis is a variant Thirteen -- one of the genetically engineered subjects of a failed government/military program to create the deadliest of soldiers. He is now a hit man with a UN mandate to find and dispatch rogue Thirteens. The problem is that Carl has lost the will to kill. When a job takes a turn for the worse and he's arrested in Miami, Carl believes that he can now leave his troubled past behind him. Unbeknownst to him, what appears to be a mentally unstable Thirteen returns from Mars and crashes the ship he's on in the Pacific, only to reappear later and leave a trail of corpses in his wake for no apparent reason. Soon afterward, government officials show up to bail Carl out of jail. In exchange, they want his expertise to help them deal what those seemingly random murders. Unfortunately, it won't take long for him to realize that there is much more to this than meets the eye.

Morgan's writing style and his fine eye for details make the narrative leap off the pages. The author truly knows how to make the story come alive, and I found the imagery quite compelling.

The worldbuilding is interesting, though Morgan doesn't delve too much on how it all came to pass. The USA have imploded and the country has split into three separate States: the Pacific Rim, the North Atlantic Union, and the Republic, also known as Jesusland. China is now a superpower and the rest of the world appears hard-pressed to keep up with them. It is a fascinating backdrop, to be sure, and it's too bad Richard Morgan didn't spend a bit more time explaining how it all unfolded.

The characterizations are well-done, the dialogues gritty. The author knows how to keep the readers interested by allowing us to learn more about the characters by increments. The Carl Marsalis/Sevgi Ertekin tandem provides a nice balance between the Thirteen and the COLIN agent. The supporting cast is comprised of a good bunch of characters, including the Norton brothers and Carmen Ren.

The pace is great -- Black Man/Thirteen is a veritable page-turner! However, the storytelling is at times a bit uneven. Nothing that really takes anything away from the novel, mind you. But Morgan sometimes takes the "easy" route, and Marsalis' hunches prove to be on target, though they're coming from way out of left field. With such a absorbing and convoluted plot, I felt decidedly short-changed when that happened.

My only true complaint in what is an otherwise nearly flawless work of science fiction lies in Morgan's depiction of Jesusland. I am well aware that the southern States of the USA are a land of contradictions, not easily understood by outsiders. But to portray the majority of their inhabitants as God-fearing, Bible-waving, racist dumbasses is quite a stretch, in my humble opinion. As I mentioned, Richard Morgan's backdrop is an interesting extrapolation of a possible future for the United States of America. Yet his depiction of the Republic goes a bit too far -- as if there's not a single soul in those States with a single shred of common sense and judgement. I mean, when it comes to human rights, they have as much moral celirity as countries like Libya. Again, that's pushing the envelope a bit too far. Honestly, there is a lot more to those States and their citizens, and the differences between the north and the south are a bit more complex than that. Hence, although most people likely will not even notice this (it doesn't particularly have much of an impact on the tale), it made me grit my teeth on more than one occasion. I guess I'm just tired of what has become a somewhat Western European misconception about the southern States, namely that religious fundamentalism is the norm everywhere. Heck, not everyone born there is a traditionalist right-wing inbred hillbilly idiot! I figure it irked me to such an extent because everything else is so well-crafted that it appears that Morgan let his Leftist side take over for just that facet of his creation. As I said, this doesn't affect the overall quality of this novel, but it left something to be desired.

Black Man/Thirteen is a high-octane, action-packed and violent book. It is also an intelligent and thought-provoking thriller, one that will even satisfy readers from outside the genre.

Like Ian McDonald's Brasyl, Morgan's latest is a sure nomination for a Hugo Award. Moreover, despite its flaws, Black Man/Thirteen might well be the book of the year!:-) I commend this one to your attention, as it is one of the books to read in 2007.

Check out my blog: [...]
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 22 March 2008
I agree with an earlier reviewer that if you have experience of Richard Morgans Takeshi Kovacs stories you may have some reservations on picking this up. I've read all of the Kovacs novels and find this an enjoyable departure from them. The technology references are relatively mild and integrated into the story. My main comment and strong recommendation is that this is an excellent example of what makes good science fiction - good science fiction is good fiction. The plot has depth and pace without resorting to distracting advanced technology frameworks to shore up a weak plot. The main character is , by definition, not largely emotionally accessible to the reader - well he wouldnt be hes a construct based on a genetic super soldier angle. Jason Bourne does scifi.
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
The year is 2107. A century from now, the United States no longer exists. Religious and political strife has torn the country into three nations: the high-tech, rich Pacific Rim; the God-fearing, ultra-right-wing Republic (aka 'Jesusland'); and the liberal, UN-aligned North Atlantic Union. China is now the world's dominant economic superpower, whilst Europe and India's political and economic might continues to expand. After (another) lengthy period of war and turmoil, the Middle-East is relatively quiet. On Mars mankind's efforts to tame the Red Planet continue unabated. Forty years earlier, genetically-engineered supermen known as 'thirteens' were created to serve as unstoppable soldiers. But, in the wake of America's collapse, they are now feared and hunted. A few thirteens serve the UN, hunting down their fellows, but most have fled to Mars, or turned to crime.

Carl Marsalis is a black man in every sense of the word: a thirteen, a 'twist' who genetic pattern is based on that of the ultimate human alpha-males who became extinct twenty thousand years ago. Whilst most of the world doesn't pay a second glance at his skin colour, in the increasingly regressive Republic it is a target for prejudice and hatred. Luckily, Marsalis is more than capable of looking after himself. When his usual employers hang him out to dry after he is thrown in a Florida prison, he takes up an offer from the Martian colonial office: to hunt down another thirteen who has come back from Mars and embarked on a bloody and apparently senseless killing spree.

Black Man is the fifth novel by British SF author Richard Morgan. It initially appears to be set in the same universe as his Takeshi Kovacs series (Altered Carbon, Broken Angels and Woken Furies), roughly 400 years earlier, although the author has since said he didn't intend this. A certain level of compatibility between the two series developed in the writing. It is a totally stand-alone work: you may glean a few insights from having read the Kovacs books first (particularly the source of the increasingly advanced technology that is being shipped back from Mars), but the book stands up by itself. Which is just as well, as it is by far his finest book to date and sets the bar improbably high for all other science fiction released in 2007.

The book has been retitled Thirteen (or Th1rte3n according to the cover) for the American market and it's easy to see why. This is an incendiary novel that absolutely pulls no punches and takes no prisoners. Morgan analyses the problems he sees in the USA's political and sociological make-up and uses them skillfully to tear the country apart. Not since Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars Trilogy have I seen an author so convincingly show what can happen to a nation, to a mass of people, and how they develop. As an SF book relegated to the darker corners of bookshops, it's likely that the book will escape widespread scrutiny, but I can imagine this book being banned and then burned in certain parts of the American South, which it is not particularly flattering to (although the rest of the human race doesn't exactly come off lightly either). Morgan has said previously that he doesn't pay as much attention to his backdrops as he does to his characters and plots, but in Black Man the worldbuilding is exemplery. The San Francisco of Altered Carbon could feel somewhat cold and sterile at times, but the same city in Black Man is a vivid, three-dimensional place which fairly leaps of the page, as does 22nd Century New York, Miami and the other key locations in the novel.

The thriller element of the story is compelling. Morgan knows how to set up an intricate web of intrigue and mystery and when to make new revelations and bring in new characters. The world that Marsalis inhabits is a murky one of dubious loyalties and betrayals, through which a classic noir story unfolds (albeit a noir story with moments of extreme ultraviolence, a pretty explicit sex scene and a lot of swearing). Unlike the Kovacs novels, Black Man is told in the third person and there are several key POV characters as well as Marsalis, particularly the Martian colonial office agent Svegi Ertekin and her partner, Tom Norton. All are expertly drawn and deconstructed by the author. Marsalis himself is a fascinating character and hopefully Morgan will one day write books further exploring him further.
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on 8 November 2012
I read Richard Morgans first book altered carbon and loved it enough to accidentally buy 2 copies of his next book, which i still haven't ready :P Having read most of classics over the last 30 years i've been working my way through the award winners recently, imagine my surprise to find out this book was by the author of the excellent altered carbon ! I skimmed through the Amazon reviews as i suspect you are too, to get a feel for the books vibe and was concerned by the reviews saying this wasn't anything like the kovacs series :( I bought the book anyway based on it winning the Arthur C Clarke award, and was rewarded by a spectacular journey into a wonderful new world, i'm wishing he makes more now. The world is set in a recognisable future, at times hauntingly familiar, others whimsically recognisable. Part modern day technology, part blade runner, yet near enough to life to easily sink into the story, at once understanding the people and places and yet enjoying the unfamiliar. The hero of the story is almost an anti hero, a dark man in skin as well as temperament, quick to smile and quicker to kill. He wanders through the story, relying on his instincts, listening to his gut, and death follows him. The other reviews are right, there is a large part of the book where the violence is diminished, and to be fair i felt a yearning for the death and destruction i felt was the hero's right, yet i couldn't help turning the pages, the book is that good. Buy it, you wont be disappointed.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 10 December 2010
Richard Morgan built his reputation on a single novel - 'Altered Carbon' - and this and its two sequels form a trilogy structured around the protagonist, Takeshi Kovacs. 'Altered Carbon' was a notable essay in the most successful modern form of intelligent SF - a fusion of the all-action thriller plot with noir elements and a hard-SF imagining of a relatively near future. The book deserved its success, and is recommended: but it, and its sequels, also appear to have set reader expectations for the type of book that Richard Morgan would go on to write. 'Black Man' (retitled 'Thirteen' in the USA) is not that type of book, and its reception has been less enthusiastic, with many reader reviews reflecting disappointment that Morgan has stepped away from the established Kovacs template. This is a pity. Considered on its own merits, 'Black Man' may be the best and most serious piece of writing Richard Morgan has given us.

The story is set a century ahead of our own time. Intercontinental travel is faster: Mars is being colonised; genetic experimentation has gone further. The United States has disintegrated as a political entity. The liberal coasts have gone one way: the conservative, religious heartland another. Extra-governmental agencies - COLIN and UNGLA struggle to contain the impact of a century of political and technological change on a world still in thrall to the forces that have always created problems: differences of religious belief, conflicting visions of the future, social, gender and racial prejudice, criminal agendas, the individual pursuit of power.

'Black Man' uses the mechanics of a thriller plot and a near-future setting to examine what it is to be human in the light of technologies that threaten to make traditional definitions irrelevant. The 'Thirteens' are human genetic variants - one of several different types - that were deliberately created for human purposes. Considered to have outlived their usefulness, but ill-fitted for life among the 'cudlips' - base-line humans - their freedom is constrained by law. They live on reservations, or on Mars, or - in rare instances - as licensed hunters of renegades.

The novel's central character is Carl Marsalis, a Thirteen, a licensed hunter, a literal and metaphorical 'black man' - not merely dark-skinned, but as a hypermale the focus of fears and prejudices that are both novel and ancient in their roots. Morgan sets Marsalis in pursuit of a rogue Thirteen, and what follows is in some ways a standard thriller, albeit with an ingenious and complex plot. Certainly readers who grew up with William Gibson and 'Bladerunner' will be at ease here. But what sets 'Black Man' apart both from Morgan's earlier books and from run-of-the-mill post-cyberpunk SF is Morgan's concern with the social and political issues that the existence of 'variant humans' creates: in particular, how far individuals are constrained by their genetic heritage.

There is a depth of characterisation and an exploration of moral ambiguity in this novel that is still unusual in SF, and a powerful and emotionally involving central relationship between Marsalis and the Turkish-American COLIN operative Sevgi Ertekin. Admirers of 'Altered Carbon' seeking more of the same may indeed be disappointed, although there are plenty of action set-pieces. This is SF for the more serious reader: a little slower in pace, more thoughtful, more expansive - it's not a quick read - but for me ultimately more involving and likely to live longer in the mind. The retitling of the book for the American market reflects the sensitivities involved: this is definitely one for the open-minded. Thoroughly recommended.
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'Black Man', also known as 'Thirteen' in foreign markets where the original title wouldn't be considered politically correct, is Richard Morgan's latest (at time of reviewing) sci-fi offering. It's a departure from his usual several-centuries-hence setting that features his Takeshi Kovacs protagonist, however the reader may get a slight inkling that this near-future setting is the precursor to that farther-flung one, and while there is no connection between this story and those, there are a few common elements for the attentive reader.

Carl Marsalis is the titular 'Black Man', literally and figuratively. As a genetically engineered former British 'black ops' soldier, he is one the few of his kind to be allowed a measure of freedom in his affairs post-service, on condition that he work for the United Nations hunting down his fellow genetically engineered 'Variant Thirteens' when they go rogue. When the aftermath of a hunt leaves Marsalis in a 'Jesusland' gaol, he is recruited by the corporation charged with the colonisation of Mars to hunt a Thirteen who has escaped that planet and returned to Earth in a gruesome fashion.

This is a speculative novel of prejudice and the violence, the latter being Morgan's stock-in-trade, the former being the underlying message of this book. Fans of the Kovacs books will find a simpler hero, but one who is no less single-minded in his weapon-laden hunt across a divided North America, and his adventures are once again not for the sqeamish.
The more philosophical elements are there, as in the previous books, this time centring on how humans treat their genetically engineered counterparts, however they are subordinate to the main story. Whether the reader considers this a good thing, or a missed opportunity, I leave up to them.

In all, a more mature book from an author that seems to be settling into his stride, and who has taken the opportunity to branch out from an already popular series in order to add depth to the body of his work. If you're a fan of the Kovacs books I think you'll like this - I did.
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