Once again, my colleague Penitent Liberal Lesbian has a fascinating book to share with us. Do go check out her website and read the critique of our window displays by street people down at the day job.
Imagine the future, where the country is split into separate areas, The Rim, Jesusland, and the Coast. Mars has been colonized, and the slogan is that it's "Not all red rocks and airlocks", but the winners of the Martian lottery get to come back to Earth.
Carl Marsalis won the lottery, but Earth doesn't want him back. See, Carl's a Thirteen, a genetically modified being. Thirteens were created to be a strike force, the enforcers. They're incredibly fast, they are almost impossible to kill and they aren't afraid. There are compounds around the world where Thirteens are kept isolated.
But there's also a serial killer loose, he's fast, he's merciless, he's impossible to catch. Remember the phrase, "It takes a thief to catch a thief"? Welcome to Richard K. Morgan's Thirteen ($24.95, Ballantine).
If that was the whole story, it would probably be enough. Morgan's an excellent and experienced science fiction writer. But he adds so much more to this novel. His Thirteens are much more complex than even Phillip K. Dick's Replicants, which is no small feat. The relationships between the characters is a living thing, and it's often as humane and uplifting as it is twisty and destructive.
Morgan makes sharp and incisive political and religious statements throughout the book, and rather than detracting, they explain the world and how it works, or doesn't work.
For example, there's a special gun, a Haag gun, that shoots bullets that, if they even graze you, will destroy your immune system completely, eating you alive from the inside out. The virus it injects is called the Falwell virus, and once you catch it, there's no salvation.
Carl's teamed up with a New York cop, Sevgi, who's of Turkish descent and who is nominally Muslim. Carl shrugs and says, "I'm just drawing on global media here. Islam, the Vatican, those Jesusland baptist guys. They're all singing pretty much the same hymn."
When talking about how the Thirteens are treated, one character points out, "You know, Guantanamo syndrome? Do it far enough away and no-one gives a shit!" Sound familiar?
One more quote, and then you've really got to grab a copy of this book. It's not an easy, kick-back-on-the-beach read, and you'll need to pay attention because the initial pieces don't come together quickly so this is not a book for the unintelligent, but Morgan has created a completely believable world, has peopled it with characters who live on in your memory, and a plot that kicks ass!
"Monsters, scapegoats," The words dripped off his (Carl's) tongue like cards he was dealing. His voice was suddenly jeering. "Angels and demons, heaven and hell, god, morality, law and language. Sutherland's right, it's all metaphor. Scaffolding to handle the areas where base reality won't cut it for you guys, where it's too cold for humans to live without something made up. We codify our hopes and fears and wants, and then build whole societies on the code. And then forget it was ever code and treat it like fact. Act like the universe gives a shit about it. Go to war over it, string men and women up by the neck for it. Firebomb trains and skyscrapers in the name of it."
Go. Get this book.