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Thin Air by Richard K. Morgan

First published in the UK in 2018; published by Del Rey on October 23, 2018

Thin Air is Martian noir. It is set in the same universe as the author’s Thirteen, a novel that appeared about ten years ago, but more than a century has passed between the two books. The novels are based on the concept of breeding genetically-modified humans for military and similar purposes. Their tendency toward aggression makes them antisocial. Many ended up on Mars, where Earth dumps its problems.

Hakan Veil is a hibernoid. He sleeps for three-month stretches, then “runs hot” until he triggers another period of hibernation. He was bred to serve as an overrider, sort of a law enforcer who is kept in a deep freeze during interplanetary transit and thawed out when trouble needs to be overcome.

As the story begins, Veil walks into a club on the strip in Bradbury (a Martian city, of course) and does violence to the club owner. Veil’s contract says he’s supposed to be out of jail and paid within 40 days, but the Earth corporation that oversees Bradbury is conducting an audit, and high levels of crime and corruption need to be concealed with care, much to Veil’s displeasure, given the risk that he will be locked up indefinitely. When a cop named Nikki Chakana suddenly releases Veil with instructions to protect an auditor named Madison Madekwe, Veil’s new worry is that the criminals who hired him on his last job will think he’s cooperating with the police.

For reasons that are not immediately explained, someone tries to blow up Veil with a warhead shortly after his release. Do the Crater Critters who hired him to take out the club owner think he ratted them out? Are the club owner’s pals looking for payback? Is the warhead wielder someone who doesn’t want Veil to protect Madekwe? An angry husband who does not take well to being cuckolded? The number of people who want to kill Veil is impressive, and some of them can afford warheads.

The intricate plot (Veil protects, loses, then tries to find Madekwe while reevaluating his mission) mixes action with intrigue as multiple attempts are made on Veil’s life. Corporate hit squads seem to be competing with underworld figures, politicians, and cops to see who can do the most damage to the overrider. Veil encounters interesting characters, has sex with some of them, gets played by others, and never really knows who to trust. He learns that someone was planning to make a big score before he disappeared and that the score, the nature of which is a mystery, probably has something to do with Madekwe’s abduction. Piecing it all together is a challenge for both Veil and the reader.

Richard K. Morgan always tells a good story but I’m not sure that this one justifies its length. Characters love to make speeches. Sometimes they make the same speech repeatedly. Some of the action scenes come across as padding. I suspect a quarter of the story could have omitted without doing any great harm to the plot or characterizations, while achieving a tighter novel.

Veil is a basic enhanced tough guy with a snarky tough guy personality, but some of the supporting cast members (and there are plenty of those) are more original. My interest in the story waxed and waned, but in the end I enjoyed the action and the moderately puzzling mystery that drives the plot. The story’s political/cultural background is carefully imagined. Most of the story has a high fun factor. That’s more than enough to earn a recommendation, even if the novel is a bit wordy.


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