4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Sure to upset, but that was probably the point,
This review is from: Black Man (GOLLANCZ S.F.) (Hardcover)
This book is set about 100 years in the future, where the USA have imploded into three separate states; one Pacific facing, high tec and efficient, one liberal, internationalist in the north east and one seemingly sprung from today's Tea Party fundamentalists, with a touch of good ole racist red-neck thrown in for good measure. China is the world's super power and Europe has managed to bumble its way through to keeping the EU in one piece. Mankind has gone through some obviously troubling regional wars, where genetically bred soldiers were used in a failed attempt at supremacy. One of these genetic variants, a "13", is now globally illegal and can only legally live on Mars where there is an international colony involved in terraforming the red planet.
The protagonist, Carl Marsalis is one of these 13s, a mercenary hunting other rogue 13s living on earth. Worn out, he lands in jail in Jesusland, the poorest and most backward but biggest remnant of the old USA but is hauled out to solve a series of murders perpetrated by a rogue 13 who has stolen a spaceship from Mars, casually eating all the inhabitants on the way, and then crashing that craft into the sea near the Pacific Rim, the most modern of the successor states to the USA. Marsalis teams up with an ex-cop, Sevgi Eretkin to solve the murders and the rest of the book winds its way through a particularly gruesome plot and a heartbreaking, but poetic ending.
The novel was written at a time when the US had invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, but when both wars were starting to unravel and when George Bush and his folksy, quasi-religious brand of American conservatism were almost universally reviled across the globe. The 2004 elections in the USA were under way and the polarisation of American society had really started to take off. China's formidable march forward to becoming a global power was already well under way and the cracks in Western society were showing. In my personal opinion, this novel should be read in that context, particularly as Carl Marsalis is literally a black man in all senses of the word, and Jesusland, the religious fundamentalist remnant of the USA is portrayed as being very racist, bigoted and ultra-conservative.
Morgan twists a lot of the plot around the roles that gender and race play in society and the inclusion of a Turkish woman as his partner and her personal family difficulties is an interesting ploy to show that there is more to the Muslim world than extremist fanatics. Indeed, the Muslim world is curiously absent in this novel. It's a pity, in a way, because the novel is very politcal on a certain level and a juxtaposition of the various societies would have been interesting. While, of course, no one knows what will become of the USA in the future, the failing economy, the political polarisation and the rise of China are constants which continue to this day. It would be interesting to see Richard Morgan's take on the current wave of popular revolution sweeping the middle east.
But overall, this is an excellent novel and in my opinion, Richard Morgan deserves a lot of credit for tackling a modern issue via SF in a very straightforward way, something that SF can be very good at if written with that purpose in mind. Technology is thankfully kept in the background in this novel, and is mainly used as a plot framework on which the novel builds.