Review: Thin Air
So it’s been a while since we’ve had a new Richard Morgan book, yeah? Even longer since it was a science fiction book, as Morgan spent a bundle of time trying his hand at the grimdark fantasy genre with A LAND FIT FOR HEROES (EBR Archive). In general, we here at EBR haven’t been particularly enamored with any of his stuff. Fantasy, Science Fiction, or otherwise. It’s just all sat itself solidly in the middle of mediocrity for us. So, if I’m being completely honest… I put this off for a while. And when I finally decided to bite the bullet and pick it up, I wasn’t overly surprised by what I found.
THIN AIR (Amazon) is kind-of a stand-alone novel. Technically the story happens in the same “universe” as Thirteen (“Black Man” for those across the pond), although you won’t find anything in this book to really connect it to the prior one in this series except for the type of person the main character is. I read Thirteen a long time ago–back before I was writing for EBR–and wasn’t overly impressed with that one. As I was reading this book, I kept wondering if anything from Thirteen would come into play, but if anything did, it was pretty small potatoes indeed.
Hakan Veil is a Black Hatch Man. An individual that has been chosen since before birth to be the recipient of a high amount of tech integrated into his wetworks, which allows him to do a whole lot of things that the common man cannot. He has an AI buddy that he can subvocalize to. A retractable blade that slides into his wrist. An enormous amount of guns, and the uncanny ability to hack any other kind of tech that gets in his way. He used to work for a company named Blond Vaisutis, but was canned for disobeying rules, and a lot of his extra gadgetry got stripped from his body as a result. Still though, he keeps to the hibernation schedule of a Black Hatch Man–sleeping for four months out of the Martain year, and then waking up to do some business before his next cycle. When he wakes up from hibernation, his body is on high-alert, making him short-tempered, ultra-violent, and ready to jump into bed with just about anything that walks past him.
The story starts with him in this “running hot” condition, only a paltry three days after he’s woken from sleep, and tearing into the owner of a club.
It’s immediately apparent upon cracking open this book, that Mr. Morgan has evolved as a writer. His prose is really well-written. Eloquent. Descriptive. Evocative. It moves along and pulls at you, not allowing you to stop until he gives you permission. The world itself, the planet Mars, is vivid and detailed and full of all of the science fiction tech that you’d expect to find in a book like this. It’s not a perfect world though. Far from it, in fact. There’s a very dystopian feel to the setting. There’s a big brother (Earth Oversight), there’s local rebellion, there’s mob warfare, and a city policing effort that frequently feels absent. The people listen to what they’re told by those in power, and it’s only when the power of one of these ruling entities comes into play that anyone takes any kind of interest.
There was a lot about this book that I really enjoyed. The huge issue with the story though is that I didn’t care about any of it in the slightest. Veil is nothing even close to a sympathetic character. In fact, he’s a drunk, and a womanizer, and he has absolutely no stake in this game whatsoever. The only thing he cares about is either getting paid enough to get a ride back to Earth… or finding a ride back to Earth. Even with unsympathetic characters though, stories are not always lost. There are lots of unsympathetic characters in great books out there, but they have something else that makes readers love reading the things. I just didn’t find anything else in the story that did that for me.
I was most of the way done with the book when I re-watched Inception, arguable one of the best speculative movies of recent years, and realized that there were some parallels that I could draw from that story.
The story at the heart of Inception is the effort to get a tycoon’s estranged son to split up his father’s empire so that other flagging companies can come in and take over the market. Honestly, that’s pretty blah, yeah? So what makes the story in that show so amazing? In my mind, there are two things: the awesome-tastic science and the story of Cobb. Now, try to imagine that story, if the only thing Cobb wanted to do was to get back to the USA. That’s it. No wife. No kids. No love story. No friends for Cobb either. Instead, he’s a drunk womanizer that takes advantage wherever he can, and he uses the dream tech to allow him to get what he wants, and eventually finds out about all of these companies that want to try and tear down the empire of a tycoon after his untimely death.
That is about as close as I think I can get to describing the type of story that I found in THIN AIR. Now, ask yourself the question: would you like that revamped story of Inception better than the way it was actually told? Would it be anything like a story that you would like? I’d have to say no. I might be impressed with the tech, and the world, and the various parties, and how they were all working against each other and vying for power. But would I like it? Overall, I can’t think that I would.
The complete lack of any personal stake that Veil has in the story, the complete lack of sympathetic quality to Veil himself, and the common theme of every secondary character in the story being vicious and wicked and ready to shoot anyone in the back that gets in their way, keeps this from being anything like a story that I could ultimately enjoy. Loved the world-building. Loved the cool science. LOVED the fluid writing. Really disappointed in the point of the book after all was said and done though. I was also unable to engage with the story to any significant degree because of how the main character was written. So when the ending came, and everything flipped six ways to Sunday over and over and over again, I just couldn’t find it within myself to care. In fact, I only finished reading this a book week ago, and I’m having difficulty remembering how it all actually ended up falling out in the end.
Anyone that has enjoyed Morgan’s books in the past will think this one is great. It’s head and shoulders better plotted and better told than the story we got in ALTERED CARBON (EBR Review). His ability to create is in fine fashion here. Just don’t expect to find anything engaging, if you’re a character lover like we are here at EBR.
- Recommended Age: 18+ for all of the things
- Language: Lots and lots of expletives
- Violence: A proliferance of violence of the explosive, gory, and personal kind
- Sex: Morgan doesn't do anything at half measures when it comes to sex, and there's a lot here