Skip to main content

Thin Air (SF) - Richard Morgan *****

Just occasionally, you come across a book where the way that the characters speak really gives the feel of being immersed in a particular vision of the future. A Clockwork Orange and Neuromancer spring to mind. And Richard Morgan's Thin Air does exactly the same thing. The setting is a familiar one of a future colony on Mars, struggling with the environment, heavy handed corporations and interference from Earth, where enhanced humans endure the harshness of the frontier life. Yet Morgan manages to bring the whole thing to life and make it feel fresh and effective.

I'm not usually a fan of chunky books, but despite this being a long read, I never felt that it was longer than it should be. Morgan keeps the pressure up, giving us a mix of thriller and detective story, gradually building a picture of the main character Hak Veil and how his enhancements have influenced his life. There's politics, military conspiracy, plenty of dubious cashflows and more, as, with Veil, we eventually get an understanding of just what is going on and why.

Just occasionally the slang and cultural references made things a little difficult to follow. There is one point where we read 
"See, 'Ris put in." I genuinely thought that this was some kind of futuristic slang reference to Rasputin. In fact, an AI character called Osiris (shortened to 'Ris) has just said 'See.' However, with a bit of 'go with the flow' such things quickly became ironed out.

Apart from a couple of arguably gratuitous sex scenes, this is a well-crafted and hugely enjoyable piece of work. It's an easy read, but also engrossing. A heady mix of detective noir with seedy nightclubs, Blade Runner aesthetic and a Martian twist, supported by clever technological concepts. The revelations keep coming right to the end.

Hardback:  

Kindle:  

Review by Brian Clegg

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The Demon in the Machine - Paul Davies *****

Physicists have a habit of dabbling in biology and, perhaps surprisingly, biologists tend to be quite tolerant of it. (I find it hard to believe the reverse would be true if biologists tried to do physics.) Perhaps one reason for that tolerance is Schrödinger’s lecture series and book What is Life?, which had a huge impact on molecular biology and with a reference to which, not surprisingly, Paul Davies begins his fascinating book. 

At the heart of the The Demon in the Machine (we'll come back to that demon in a moment) is the relationship between life and information. In essence, Davies points out that if we try to reduce life to its simple physical components it is like trying to work with a computer that has no software. The equivalent of software here is information, not just in the best publicised aspect of the information stored in the DNA, but on a far broader scale, operating in networks across the organism.
This information and its processing gives life its emergent compl…

The Cosmic Mystery Tour – Nicholas Mee ****

This is another book, like last year’s Enjoy Our Universe by Alvaro de Rújula, that sets out to provide a light-hearted introduction to physics and astrophysics for the general reader. It’s from the same publisher (OUP) and packaged in the same way: as a high quality small-format hardback with 200 glossy pages, the majority of them adorned with colour pictures. But that’s where the resemblance ends. Unlike its predecessor, this new book by Nicholas Mee delivers exactly what it promises.

It’s not that de Rújula’s book was a bad one, but he just wasn’t able to think his way into the reader’s mind. He kept saying ‘physics is fun’, but he was talking about the fun a professional physicist gets out of doing it – which is a very arcane, often highly mathematical, type of fun. The result, for a non-specialist reader, was actually quite alienating. Mee, on the other hand, understands exactly how his readers think, what they find interesting, and the details that – no matter how important they …

Professor Maxwell's Duplicitous Demon - Brian Clegg ****

‘It’s not uncommon when trying to give Maxwell his rightful place in the pantheon of physics to bracket him with Newton and Einstein’, Brian Clegg says towards the end of this book. In one sense that’s perfectly true. Dip into any physics textbook and you’ll see Maxwell’s name at least as often as the other two. His greatest achievement – Maxwell’s equations – did for electromagnetism what Newton had done for gravity, while laying the essential theoretical groundwork for everything Einstein was to do.

There’s a big difference, though. A few years ago, when I was offered the chance to write short biographies of Newton and Einstein, I jumped at it – because they addressed mysteries of the universe that anyone can relate to, and their lives outside physics were, if anything, even more fascinating. At the risk of sounding downright rude, you can’t say either of those things about James Clerk Maxwell. In spite of that, Brian Clegg has done a wonderful job here of recounting just what Maxwel…