Thin Air: An intense, foul-mouthed, high-octane thriller

Thin Air by Richard K. Morgan science fiction book reviewsThin Air by Richard K. MorganThin Air by Richard K. Morgan

Richard K. Morgan’s stand-alone novel Thin Air (2018) is set on Mars in the universe of his novel Thirteen. His protagonist, Hakan Veil, is a disgraced “enforcer” who’s just been dumped on Mars by the corporation to whom he had been indentured since childhood. They recently fired him. Hakan would love to get back to Earth, but that’s nearly impossible these days because it costs too much to get there and Earth lets very few people in. Mars is a hostile and decadent world with a populace made up of many criminal elements.

Fortunately, Hakan still retains some of the genetic enhancements his company supplied before cutting ties with him. This makes him a total badass. Corporate enforcers spend much of their time in cryo until they’re needed by their company, so when they get activated for a job, they are super-charged with extra strength, speed, and cognitive abilities. Therefore, when Hakan gets dumped on Mars, he’s “running hot” and ready for revenge.

To keep him busy and out of confinement, a local police detective gives him a job protecting a woman who has come to Mars to investigate a missing persons report. Normally something like this should be easy for Hakan, but the woman he’s charged with protecting, the beautiful and intelligent Madison Madekwe, may not have been completely forthcoming with her revelations about the job and herself. When Madison gets kidnapped, suddenly it looks like Veil may be in over his head. And he can’t expect anybody on the corrupt planet of Mars to help him set things right.

There were many things I loved about Thin Air. I loved the world Morgan created on Mars. It’s so vivid with many lovely little details such as the Code Flies that keep stinging Harkan to update his software, and the amusing place names such as the city of Bradbury. Despite its lawlessness, I loved its frontier feeling, its residents’ anti-authoritarian bent, and its fierce independence from Earth.

Fans of Richard K. Morgan, who know what to expect, and readers looking for an intense, foul-mouthed, high-octane thriller with an aggressive super-powered badass hero will probably love Thin Air. I liked the fast pace and twisty plot, and I liked Hakan (though I didn’t care too much about what happened to him) but the story was a little too intense, angry, raw, and violent for me. Even the sex was brutal and graphic. I realize I’m a wimp, but Thin Air was just too uncomfortable for me. I would recommend it for Morgan’s fans, though. I think they know what to expect.

The audio version of Thin Air was produced by Random House Audio and narrated by Colin Mace. Sounding like a world-weary cynic, Mace was perfectly cast and gave a great performance. The audiobook is 18 hours long.

Published in October 2018. An atmospheric tale of corruption and abduction set on Mars, from the author of the award-winning science fiction novel Altered Carbon, now an exciting new series from Netflix. From the moment Richard K. Morgan’s dazzling debut, Altered Carbon, burst onto the scene, it was clear that a distinctive new voice had arrived to shake up science fiction. His subsequent novels—including the sequels Broken Angels and Woken Furies—confirmed him as a master of hard-boiled futuristic thrillers. Now Morgan returns to the world of SF noir with a riveting tale of crime, corruption, and deadly crisis on a planet teetering close to the edge. On a Mars where ruthless corporate interests violently collide with a homegrown independence movement as Earth-based overlords battle for profits and power, Hakan Veil is an ex–professional enforcer equipped with military-grade body tech that’s made him a human killing machine. But he’s had enough of the turbulent red planet, and all he wants is a ticket back home—which is just what he’s offered by the Earth Oversight organization, in exchange for being the bodyguard for an EO investigator. It’s a beyond-easy gig for a heavy hitter like Veil . . . until it isn’t. When Veil’s charge, Madison Madekwe, starts looking into the mysterious disappearance of a lottery winner, she stirs up a hornet’s nest of intrigue and murder. And the deeper Veil is drawn into the dangerous game being played, the more long-buried secrets claw their way to the Martian surface. Now it’s the expert assassin on the wrong end of a lethal weapon—as Veil stands targeted by powerful enemies hellbent on taking him down, by any means necessary.

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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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2 comments

  1. I found Thirteen to be confounding logically, but I liked many parts of it. I loved Altered Carbon. I’m leaning toward reading this one, and as you said, I do know what to expect.

  2. Kat, I gave this book a 50 page test drive, but it felt too much like re-hashed, testosterone-fueled space noir – something that I feel sf has outgrown. I failed the test, or it failed the test, whatever. I know there’ll always be an audience for the macho male, might-makes-right narrative, but damn, I think I’ve had my fill, and your review convinces me I was right to set it aside after the test drive…

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