Tuesday, 11 December 2018

Book review: Black Man, Richard Morgan (2007)

This noirish police procedural is alternatively titled ‘Thirteen’. It starts with promise but soon gets bogged down with technobabble invented to give fanboys their jollies.

The story of black COLIN assassin Carl Marsalis that opens the story has merit but he is taken out of the picture after a couple of chapters and then you are faced with the trials of COLIN policewoman Sevgi Ertekin. (COLIN is some sort of pan-continental government that controls space travel in the solar system.) The story is that a spaceship comes down in the ocean off San Francisco and Sevgi and her partner are sent out from the east coast to find out what happened to the occupants, who appear to have been surgically dismembered and eaten.

The pseudo-technological claptrap that results from this set of circumstances was intensely trying and I gave up reading after less than 15 percent of the book had elapsed. You get loaded down with information about space travel, the intricacies of suspended animation, and the relative distance at different times between the Earth and Mars. The plot stalls as the author fills you up with details you will presumably need in order to make judgements about the characters involved and about the crime that has been committed. It feels like you have to do what the Romans allegedly did when they went to banquets: get rid of the food you have eaten so that you can stuff more in. I now know what a turkey feels like at Christmastime.

With "real-world" fiction (genre or literary), the ground rules are understood and there's no need to describe basic things. And all humans have basically the same motivations, at least, all men and all women. Men and women share some motivations, and there are some things that separate them, and so condition the way they behave. Aliens (or the genetically-modified human, Marsalis, who is a character in this novel), on the other hand, need more backgrounding to be fully realised.

The hardboiled style that is used to develop character in this novel is also trying. It excludes so many types of emotion and tends to focus you on the nuts and bolts of the world that is being created. It’s like a series of memes is being used to describe existence. The relations between people are all filtered through this distorting lens, a lens that flattens out the characters you are presented with, and who have such an important function in the novel.

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