Black Man by Richard Morgan

Read: 5 June, 2010

Black Man (or Thirteen, as it’s known in the US) envisions a future in which genetically modified super-soldiers have come and gone. Carl Marsalis is a ‘Variant Thirteen’ whose escaped persecution by becoming persecutor, his job is to use his enhanced abilities to hunt down others like himself.

It was an interesting book with a rather frightening image of the future. For one thing, the US has been split apart by ideology, with a vast portion fenced off and backwards, an anti-technology society referred to as ‘Jesusland.’ The hints dropped throughout the book about how this future came about are frighteningly plausible.

Given the subject matter, it should come as no surprise that the book contains quite a bit of graphic violence. It did verge on the gratuitous at times, but it fights with the context. Thirteens are hated and excluded from society precisely because of their psychopathic violent tendencies.

I’ve read that the name was changed in the US to avoid the more racially-charged title. It’s a shame, because the fact that Carl Marsalis is black plays a fairly important role in the story. The whole idea of the ‘Variant Thirteen,’ people who are seen as not quite people, echoes back to the rhetoric we’ve so often heard in the context of race. To censor the title, eliminating the big neon sign pointing at the analogy of the book, doesn’t avoid racism. Rather, it just hides it – and it’s questionable just how much use not talking about a problem can have in fixing it.

All in all, a solid future-fiction with a good plot and an excellent premise.

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