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The Words & Writings of Sean Richmond

Thirteen: Review

Thirteen by Richard K. Morgan Audible Edition Narrated by Simon Vance

Cover of
Cover of Thirteen

One hundred years from now, the world has changed. The United States is no more, Mars has been colonized, and China is the preeminent super power. Genetic enhancement is the cutting edge tech of the day, and the Variant Thirteen is the ultimate in enhanced soldier. But they're nothing new, no, they're the complete opposite. They're men with genes that have been reverse engineered to be more like humans were twenty-thousand years ago. Back when they ruled by sheer, individual power. They're the men who refused to settle and become farmers; they're the men who roamed the world and slew and savaged their way to glory and gold.

But then the rest of humanity decided there was more profit in an agrarian lifestyle, that cities and civilization were more important. So these men of power were bred out of the population. Then Genetic Variant Thirteen is created, bred and raised to be the best soldier there could be, the last cry of patriarchal society before it is ground to dust by the wave of "feminization" that is sweeping the world.

The story follows Carl Marsalis, by and large, a British black Thirteen(as the UK edition is named) who somehow made it back from Mars and became a bounty hunter, making money off of hunting his fellow thirteens, who have been exiled to prison camps after being deemed too dangerous to live freely in human society.

If you've never read Richard K. Morgan, then you may not be prepared for some of the savagery that is on display in Thirteen. His style is a hardboiled neo-noir, through and through, and he does not shy away from the rough stuff. Explicit sex scenes, gruesome gun battles, men who don't give a damn about the moral implications of an action and women who can't give it away fast enough are all par for the course for Morgan. Generally, it's pretty entertaining.

I really like noir, and I really, really like science fiction. So when the two overlap, I'm more than eager to read it. Thirteen wasn't the first book of Morgan's that I've read. Before that was the Takeshi Kovacs trilogy, beginning with Altered Carbon (which is fantastic). So when I started this, I knew that it would be slow going at first, and I was absolutely right on that count. The first dozen chapters (give or take) are a bit of a slog to get through, but once you're done and the mystery actually gets going you're in for a treat.

Morgan is absolutely not for everyone, and Thirteen isn't his best work, though that is a matter of opinion (as one longtime friend vehemently disagrees with me on). It's absolutely worth reading if you like the style, or if you were a fan of his Kovacs books, which it could be argued this is a precursor to. If you're at all squeamish, by violence, rough language, or sexual depictions (which are the most graphic, I think), then Morgan and Thirteen are not for you.

Rating: 7/10

Audio Edition Rating: 5/10

Note on Edition: I listened to this after purchasing it on, as I'm a pretty avid listener to audio books. This was a huge mistake, as this book is a little more complex than I generally like my audio books, and the narrator (Simon Vance), while excellent at his role, was too similar to other audio books of the same genre that kept making them blend together in my head as I listened. If you hadn't listened to other Simon Vance narrations, then this might be better for you. Personally, this seems like a book that is better read than listened to.