Review: Thin Air by Richard K. Morgan

Thin Air: A Novel
By Richard K. Morgan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I've long been a fan of Richard K. Morgan's style of science fiction writing and his return to the field after a decade-long absence is certainly welcome, with Thin Air doing much to remind me why I fell in love with this author's work to begin with.

Morgan writes sci-fi that is heavily, heavily influenced by hard-boiled mysteries. Beneath all the whiz-bang high-tech wrappings of interstellar colonization, cybernetic augments, and next-gen weaponry, there's a grizzled take on the classic PI - down on his luck, hard drinking, smartly armed, and chasing dames - and a planet-sized dose of noir. Thin Air is gritty, like a mouthful of coffee grounds and gravel, and just as grim and bloody as you could imagine.

On Mars, one lucky lottery winner has won his ticket back to Earth. Only problem is, he's dead, a complication that has triggered a planet-wide audit by the colony's Earth overseers. Hakan Veil is a former overrider - a genetically augmented warrior who has had his license to kill revoked and has been exiled to Mars. He's just murdered a local gangster, which has put him in police custody. He can make the charges disappear if he can protect the auditor, Madison Madekwe, and keep her safe from whoever's murdered the lottery winner. Veil makes the deal and finds himself up to his neck in organized crime, terrorist factions, killers, and political intrigue...and then things go even further south from there.

Thin Air is a densely packed narrative, and Morgan has done an excellent job building up the world of Mars and delivering a cast of deeply complicated characters. Loyalties are ever-shifting, and there's almost as many motives to the madness Veil finds himself lost in as there are Martians. The plot spins wildly upon each new revelation, and the scope of this particular story grows broader and broader. I have to applaud Morgan for being able to keep all the twists, turns, and back-stabbings straight, because there are a lot of moving pieces and characters to keep track of here. I honestly wouldn't mind seeing the notes and outlines he must have created to keep this story flowing as impressively as it does. Thin Air is a perfect example of how characters serve the plot, and the reasons behind their motivations are just as labyrinthine as the story Morgan is telling.

And, of course, there is plenty of sex and violence to move that story forward - it wouldn't really be a Richard K. Morgan book without those elements appearing rather frequently in grisly, graphic abundance. Veil is a lab-engineering killing machine; murder is literally built into his DNA, so expect a no-holds barred approach to the action sequences here. Ditto the book's sex scenes. Veil may have been coerced into playing the role of a private dick, but of this latter, well, it ain't all that private and Veil isn't the kind of guy who lets nearly being murdered with a military-grade rocket prevent him from shacking up with the stripper next door.

After spending the better part of a decade crafting a trilogy of fantasy novels, it's pretty damn thrilling to have Morgan back in the game of telling ultra-gritty, hard-boiled futuristic noir. I've missed his contributions to science fiction, and Thin Air didn't disappoint in the least. This sucker is chock full of crime, conspiracy, action, and subterfuge, and Morgan is a goddamned master, at the top of his game right here. I just hope I don't have to wait another decade for his next work of dark sci-fi, but if it's as good as Thin Air, I certainly won't complain.

[Note: I received an advance reading copy of Thin Air from the publisher, Del Rey Books, via NetGalley.]

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Michael Patrick Hicks

Michael Patrick Hicks is the author of the science fiction novels Convergence, an Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2013 Quarter-Finalist, and Emergence. His work has appeared in several anthologies, and he has written for the websites Graphic Novel Reporter and Audiobook Reviewer. In between compulsively buying books and adding titles that he does not have time for to his Netflix queue, he is hard at work on his next story.

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