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Thirteen by Richard K. Morgan
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Dec 29, 08

Read in December, 2008

Richard Morgan doesn't conceal his source material, intellectual or stylistic. His acknowledgments at the beginning of the book are a great jumping off point for exploring some of the themes that "Thirteen" tackles, and there are plenty of them. Stylistically he weaves a noirish blend that owes a great deal to Dick, Gibson and Chandler, and echoes cinematic sources as well as literary. The last scenes evoke "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" in the slant of the light and the quiet punctuated by brief, seething violence. Morgan is a skilled synthesist, and more than that as well. Every two or three chapters his writing catches fire and precipitates a paragraph or more of jewel-like prose. The plot pivots and curlicues with tight precision, vectoring off into enough ideas to fill three separate books. His command of the kinesthetic seizes your gut and hauls you into the center of the dangerous world that he illuminates. He maintains suspense to the final pages. Ultimately he delivers stinging and startling perspective on what our common humanity (and inhumanity) is really made of.

He bases the story on a classic motif - the outsider bounty hunter bringing a fellow outsider to justice, in this case a genetic variant throwback to pre-civilized humanity equipped with martial adaptations. The protagonist supposedly lacks the basic empathies that make our society possible, and exposes the fundamental brutality of that same society when he fails to be the monster he was designed to be. Enjoyable as a straight-up action novel, Morgan has programmed in subtle barbs that will twist and slice for years to come.
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