Richard K. Morgan and The Mars Conspiracy
With the recent surge in progress around digital technology, I think we can all understand the correlating rise in science-fiction and cyberpunk literature. After all, humanity has never experienced this quick of a development in the entirety of its history, and we’ve already had plenty of glimpses into both the wonders and terrors new technology might bring.
It seems one of the more common repeating motifs is the idea of technologically-enhanced humans, and few authors have explored this idea as much as Richard K. Morgan, and he does so once again in Thin Air.
The story is centred on Hakan Veil, a bodyguard Madison Madekwe who is part of a colonial audit team sent to Mars for a relatively simple task: to find a lottery winner who was reported to have mysterious disappeared. Seems like a fairly routine job, minus the lack of leads, but soon enough things take a turn for the worse as the team find themselves attacked, Madekwe gets kidnapped, and Hakan is nearly killed himself.
Driven by an impregnable sense of duty and focus on his task, Hakan puts his enhanced capabilities to the biggest test in his life, beginning his own investigation into what exactly is happening on this planet. The further he looks into it, the deeper the mystery becomes, and soon it becomes apparent some great sacrifices will be required to learn the kind of truth he could have never imagined himself.
Familiar Territory in Thin Air
To begin with, I think it’s important to take a moment and discuss Richard K. Morgan and his philosophy as an author. Some writers prefer to cast their nets far and wide, trying out new ideas, structures, genres, and so on and so forth.
When it comes to Morgan, from what I’ve observed he prefers to take the opposite route for the most part, sticking with one structure and instead varying the elements around it, as if trying to create the one perfect story. This also applies to Thin Air, so if you’ve read other novels by Morgan, you will find yourself in rather familiar territory, and whether or not you like this kind of approach is entirely up to you.
Like he has done numerous times before, Morgan once again presents us with a protagonist who is enhanced in some way and has also been trained since inception to become a ruthless killer. There are people he develops a soft spot for and chooses to protect, leading him on an odyssey of death and violence in the name of the greater good.
Besides this though, the setting and the surrounding characters are new and original enough in themselves to prevent Thin Air from feeling like an exact copy-paste of the author’s previous works. There are enough new concepts, people and technological gadgets for us to explore and reflect upon, and the further I got into Thin Air the easier it was to forget when the author is retreading some ground from his previous novels.
The Comfort of Predictable Entertainment
While this isn’t exactly breaking any new grounds in the genre, Morgan has legitimately perfected this specific plot structure, which gives him, among other things, an enviable sense of pacing which guarantees there never to be a lull in the action. Everything is always clearly defined and explained, the stakes are always in sight, and we’re simply never really given the opportunity to get bored.
The action picks up fairly quickly and doesn’t really let up until the end, to the point where I feel I should warn those who aren’t used to the author’s style about just how much of it there is. Despite its few interesting ideas, I wouldn’t call this a thinking reader’s book, with the sex and violence being as prominent as you’d expect them in a biblical depiction of Sodom and Gomorrah. This might be a bit of an exaggeration, but I think you get the point.
This is one of those books where objectively-speaking, I definitely can’t recommend it to everyone… but on the flip side, it gives the type of release and escapism the majority of people dream of from time to time, even if only once in a blue moon. There is just something truly comforting about reading a familiar story with plenty of action detached from its realistic consequences; knowing we aren’t going to be surprised by life for once can also be a good thing.
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Additionally, it’s not as if Morgan is churning out these books in a factory either. He clearly puts a lot of effort into his prose and world-building, and those alone raise the book fairly high among its peers in terms of technical quality.
The Final Verdict
Thin Air by Richard K. Morgan is a quality representation of the type of story the author has become a master of. A little predictable at times, the book is, in itself, an excellent piece of action-centred cyberpunk science fiction.
It provides a good bit of fun and fast escapism, the kind of book I would qualify as being a pleasure to read through in the right mood. If you’re looking for a fast-paced cyberpunk action story without any really heavy themes or philosophies, then I can recommend you check this book out.
Richard Kingsley Morgan
Richard Kingsley Morgan is a British author of science-fiction and fantasy books, generally set in some form of dystopia.
His first novel, Altered Carbon earned him the 2003 Philip K. Dick Award and was eventually made into a television series in 2018.
His other works include Broken Angels, Woken Furies, The Steel Remains and Thin Air. His novel Black Man also had the distinction of earning the 2008 Arthur C. Clarke Award.