Thin Air

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 07 Jan 2019

Member Reviews

I liked the descriptions of the tech.  I didn’t like all the macho tough talk and objectification of women. There was corporate skullduggery and Martian politics, but mostly it was just the protagonist being manly. I made it a third of the way and gave up.  Since I also didn’t like “Altered Carbon”, I assume that this writer and I are not compatible so I won’t try again. I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.
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It took a loooooong time for me to finish this book. I kept picking it up and putting it down. It just was very tough to get into.  It’s not my usual genre of sci-fi and it was a tough read. 

Thanks NetGalley but this one wasn’t for me.
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I'm a big fan of cyberpunk and noir fiction and this has all the same great features (if less technologically advanced) as Altered Carbon. 
And fortunately, as we go through some pretty awesome plotting, mystery, reversals, I can safely say I had a ton of fun. It was a bit cliche at times and a little cringeworthy but overall had a great time.
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Hakan Veil is a gene-enhanced gun-for-hire on Mars, strong-armed by the local police into playing bodyguard for Madison Madekwe, an auditor looking into corruption in the state-run lottery. When Madekwe disappears on his watch, Veil finds himself in a morass of corrupt officials and police, organized crime, corporations with conflicting interests and a revolutionary movement.
Thin Air spins off from Morgan’s 2007 novel Thirteen (known as Black Man in the UK), another noir-ish action novel about a gene-enhanced soldier caught in a whirlwind of corruption. While the action in that novel mostly took place on Earth, in Thin Air we get a first-hand look at COLIN (Colonial Initiative)-run Mars, and what life is like for an exiled “overrider” there.
Morgan’s knack for electrifying, hard-boiled prose and a dark, fatalistic worldview has long been his strongest asset as a writer, and he delivers the goods in Thin Air. He also has a good eye for detail and lived-in futuristic settings and kinetic action. But so much of the novel feels like old hat: the same bitter, violence-prone hero and cynical outlook, the over-the-top, bone-crushing action grind. The novel is fairly long and tries for an epic sweep, but often it is more bloated than sprawling.
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Morgan crafts a fun Sci Fi tale with a good dose of old fashioned whodunit. I loved his way of intertwining technologies that work for good and for evil, and how he creates a sense of hopefulness in a grim futuristic world. His varied characters held my interest and I would love to know what happens next in his world.
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Unfortunately, this book was another nonstarter for me. I struggled through "Altered Carbon" because I wanted to understand the hype and also understand the Netflix show, but there was less reason for me to keep going on this particular book despite it being centered on a subject that's a favorite of mine (near-future Martian politics). I did manage to struggle through the first chapter, but I'll be honest--there wasn't anything happening yet at that point. That's actually a problem for me. I got a lot of scene-setting, and a lot of dim-and-grim "the future is "Blade Runner"" aesthetic--which only really works if you're actually "Blade Runner" and not the nth knock-off iteration of the neon grungepunk 80s. I don't know who the main character is yet in significance or personality or voice, or why there are a gazillion real-and-fictional opening epigrams hinting at things, or why Mars has turned into a social morass of prostitutes and exploitation. Maybe this first chapter would have been interesting if it weren't so apathetically lazy.

I can't really tell you what the whole book is like. I can't even really tell you what the first chapter is like, except that I didn't get anything worthwhile out of it and I have too many good books that I know I'll like waiting for me to agonize over making it through this one. So ... maybe this book transforms miraculously into something transportively good further in? I'll let you, dear readers, decide.
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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.

RECOMMENDED
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Blistering and bruising, Morgan's return to SF may not be "hard SF" in the traditional sense, but it's certainly hardboiled. Really, this is cyberpunk served straight up, transplanted from the garish neon of future Earth (no "bisexual lighting" here) to a fully developed but functionally lawless colonial Mars. We open with casual slaughter of the nasty, blood-splashing variety... and that more or less sets the tone of the book, hearkening back to some of the particularly vicious bits of Altered Carbon (think back to the ending of the lab scene). It comes as a jolt, as most SF doesn't delve quite this far into violence for violence' sake, but it is instantly reminiscent of Morgan's most famous work, and that seems like the point. In many ways, this book feels like a spiritual successor to Altered Carbon: it reads more like crime fiction than anything, with an interesting but not particularly complex SF backdrop (here, a colonized Mars), and from there the blood starts to flow. 

Despite the violence and the action-movie approach to SF that Morgan generally adopts, he takes his time kicking the plot into gear. Instead, he focuses on immersing the reader into a dense system of Martian vernacular--some of which is never fully explained but begins to feel natural anyway--and a few particularly bizarre concepts, such as the notion of an "overrider". You see, our resident anti-hero protagonist fella is a genetically modified superfreak who (1) apparently doesn't need sleep (but hibernates for months at a time); (2) comes standard issue with a SOTA military-grade defense AI that can do things like hack anything that would otherwise impede the plot, or chime in for some in-skull banter with our hero when no one else is around, again keeping that plot rolling forward; and most importantly (3) he can annihilate just about anyone in a fight, including entire teams of ultra-elite soldiers, mercenaries, mobsters, or anyone else who gets in the way. 

The overrider concept illustrates both my favorite and least favorite parts of the book. The basic idea of an overrider is pretty novel: these are humans engineered from birth to serve corporate interests, in that they are assigned to protect transport ships and designed to wake from cryosleep at a moment's notice to fend off pirates or any other threat, with the ultimate imperative of saving the ship at any cost. As Morgan explains it throughout the course of the book, this is a reasonably fascinating concept that includes a mountain of unfortunate consequences (e.g. hibernation, and what it means to have to rent secure space where you can vanish for months at a time without dying due to a power outage or being murdered by the rough trade with which you swim as a requisite badass). But as I mentioned above, this is also a nifty way of making a character into Batman, i.e. an unstoppable if technically mortal ass-kicking machine... which is fun for awhile, and would make for a good action flick, but suspension of disbelief increasingly becomes an issue. Oh, and he's sexually irresistible, apparently, though this part is never fully explained, despite many, many pages of banging in graphic detail. This is the book's largest flaw: the main character is a manly wish fulfillment device akin to a Mary Sue (a "Gary Stu" or whatever you call the male equivalent), and it can be a bit much.

WITH ALL THAT SAID. Set aside your disbelief and ignore your inner prude, and the book is fun as hell once it gets going. Graphic, grimy, over-the-top and all the rest, Morgan knows his way around hardboiled noir, and the plot rarely flags once you're in the shit. All in all, there's a lot here: the world and its politics are surprisingly deep considering Mars only consists of a few scattered cities. And the way the characters alternately pine for a fading memory of Earth and begrudgingly start to appreciate the rough life on Mars all comes together to strike a surprisingly resonant chord by book's end. Far from perfect, but recommended for fans of Morgan's prior work or anyone in the mood for cyberpunk ultraviolence.
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"Thin Air" eBook was published in 2018 and was written by Richard K. Morgan (https://www.richardkmorgan.com). Mr. Morgan has published 10 novels. 

I categorize this novel as ‘R’ because it contains scenes of Violence, Mature Language, and a few Mature Situations. The story is set in the future on Mars. The primary character is Hakan Veil, a former a protection specialist for commercial spacecraft. He is equipped with military-grade body tech that makes him a force to reckon with.

Veil is now involuntarily retired from his commercial protection role. He takes on private engagements and finds himself forced to take on the job of bodyguard to an Earth Oversite investigator. It is supposed to be an easy gig.

The easy job turns into attempts on his life, a missing investigator, and the discovery of a conspiracy. Can he stay alive long enough to find the investigator?  

I thoroughly enjoyed the near 16 hours I spent reading this 536-page science fiction mystery. This novel seemed to start off very slowly. I almost called a Rule of 50 on it, but I persisted and in the end, I was glad that I had. This feels like a noir mystery the way it is written (Veil reminds me of Philip Marlowe except that he is living a couple of hundred years later and on Mars). The cover art is OK, though something in line with the plot would have been better in my opinion. I give this novel a 4.3 (rounded down to a 4) out of 5.

Further book reviews I have written can be accessed at https://johnpurvis.wordpress.com/blog/. 

My book reviews are also published on Goodreads (https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/31181778-john-purvis).
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I'm not sure this is technically a sci fi book.  It seems more like a mystery set in a sci fi setting.  But that's okay.  It was still an enjoyable read and will keep readers entertained with the internal conversations the main character has with his operating system.  He just wants to go home...but before he can get there, he'll have to solve a mystery while body guarding a VIP and working through the issues involved in not being 100% human.  Lots of entertainment to be had.
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Tersely written, yet compelling, Richard K Morgan tells a stark, futuristic tale of a man with little to lose. For fans of Altered Carbon.
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A mix of Sin City, Blade Runner, and The Expanse (and Altered Carbon). The story moves along well, and the characters have enough development to start connecting with them, but it is a quick read in general. The main character, Veil, reminds me a bit of Marv from Sin City. 

The core dynamic of the politics of Mars and solar system colonies vs. the Earth-based forces do give some food for thought. 

Ultimately, this does feel a lot like Altered Carbon with different core issues, but similar characters and flow. That could either be good or bad, but as a standalone book, it is a good read.
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I was provided with a complimentary copy of this book so I could give an honest review.

I was excited to see Richard K. Morgan was coming out with a new book. I enjoyed both the book and television series of "Altered Carbon". I had a difficult time getting into the book and, if I did not have to finish it, I probably would have stopped about 100 pages in. However, right there is where I started enjoying the book so I am glad I continued. 

Hakan Veil is an ex–corporate enforcer equipped with body tech that's enables him to be a killing machine. His former employers dumped him off on Mars and he wants to return to his home planet, Earth. He is given that chance in exchange for babysitting an investigator from Earth, Madison Madekwe. His killing skills and military-grade body tech come in handy as he tries to help unravel the mystery surrounding Madison's investigation. 

Veil's interaction with his internal AI is amusing and a big part of why I enjoyed the novel.

Richard K. Morgan's "Thin Air" is his first Science Fiction book published, according to Goodreads, in eight years. While it is in the same universe as "Thirteen", it is a stand-alone novel and you do not need to read it first.
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Richard K. Morgan paints a picture of Mars 100s of years after it’s scrappy colonial beginnings. It has settled into a gritty society of corporate , political and military corruption . Keken Veil is an engineered corporate agent who has been modified since birth imbedded with technology that makes him a brutal, efficient enforcer . Abandoned on Mars he=works low level jobs for money to get home to earth . Offered a ticket home  for a bodyguard gig he finds himself drawn into a web of violence and intrigue .. Morgan’s creation is dense , cyber punk violent and immersive .
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This was unexpectedly different from what I had been hoping for when I saw that Richard Morgan had a new book out; as such the writing and I didn't quite click. This is not a negative statement about the novel, simply that it is not for me and I was not compelled enough by the characters. Regardless, I thank the publisher for the opportunity to check it out!
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“Thin Air” is a grim swaggering tour-de-force of hardscrabble cyberpunk thrills.  Take a gene-enhanced cyborg trained killer exiled by the corporate overlords to spend the rest of his waking hours on the frontier of Mars where the cities are filled with beating nightclubs, egotripping stars, lightshows, strippers, and corruption by the armful.  Surround that city with the frontier valley, filled with prospectors hoping to find fabled El Dorado, tight knit, loyal, distrustful of outsiders.  Cyborg Veil, the narrator, is a whirlwind of action, emotion, mission, all of which he and his external lenses are going to need to keep out of jail and fulfill his parole conditions.  

Once the reader gets into the rhythm of this novel, it’s hard to put down.  It may sometimes be necessary to keep a scorecard of all the players and the story has quite a few twists and turns.  But, what sets it apart is the swagger, the grimness, the hardboiled attitude, the corruption, the backstabbers, the dances of mistrust, and the sudden explosions of sex and violence that turns this science fiction thriller into a hardboiled monster.
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Thin Air is the latest release from Richard Morgan, author of the Takeshi Kovacs books which were recently adapted for television as the Netflix series Altered Carbon. This new novel is set on a dystopian future Mars, filled with corporate corruption, organized crime, and a dissatisfied and sometimes violent population. Morgan wrote an earlier stand-alone novel set in this same world – Thirteen.

I received a copy of Thin Air through Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.

The story in Thin Air follows ex-corporate enforcer Hakan Veil as he awakens from his annual genetically mandated hibernation cycle. His life is simple at the outset as he takes jobs with a variety of not-so-legal organizations to pay for his existence on Mars, hoping someday to be able to return to Earth and the job he was born for. Veil had worked as an overrider, essentially a security officer who would stay in cryosleep on board a ship unless there was a problem. After a disastrous mission, Veil lost his career and has been marooned on Mars.

When he awakens, Veil is running hot–a state in which all of his functions are amplified, but with poor impulse control and a tendency to leap at any chance for violence and sex. He initially takes his revenge on a local establishment for what they had done to a client of his prior to his hibernation. Veil is arrested by the Bradbury PD, but while he awaits release, Earth oversight launches an investigation into widespread corruption on Mars.

Veil is released early by the police to help keep an eye on one of the investigators, Madison Madekwe. Mars runs a lottery in which the winner gets a free trip back to Earth, but one of the most recent winners vanished before claiming his prize. Veil is charged with keeping Ms. Madekwe safe while she looks into the disappearance of the lottery winner.

Before Veil can discover much about his charge, an unknown party attempts to assassinate him at the same time that Ms. Madekwe is abducted. From there, the plot becomes more convoluted. Veil pulls in favors and meets with old friends to try to discover Ms. Madekwe’s location, solve the mystery of the missing lottery winner, and hopefully earn himself a trip back to Earth.

This book was an exciting read, but I found myself wanting a little more explanation of the technology and this semi-terraformed Mars. I had trouble orienting myself to some aspects of this world. For example, I never really figured out how much Mars had been terraformed and why or how certain parts were inhabitable when it sounded like other places were not.

I think that the ending of the story could possibly be seen as a deus ex machina, but I didn’t mind it. Veil has a large enough part in the concluding events for it to be satisfying. However, this is also not a story about a moral victory, and the outcome of the book is more neutral in that sense.

If you liked the Takeshi Kovacs books, you’ll probably like Thin Air. The high level of violence, language, and sex is similar to Morgan’s other work. He writes a similar character with Hakan Veil, and the plot is full of twists, betrayal, and action. So while this is not my favorite book by the author, I did enjoy it for those aspects.
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Solid SF thriller from a great author. The story takes a bit of time going, as Morgan has to set up the world of colonized Mars - both scientifically and politically. But then things start to hit the fan, and more and more of them are hitting as the book goes on. This is more of a noir thriller in SF setting, then "true" SF - the fantastical elements provide the setting, but are not central to the story.. Still, the characters are interesting, Morgan knows how to write both long descriptions and crisp one-liners, and it's never boring.
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Veil is a genetically modified mercenary trapped on a frontier Mars who stumbles into a mysterious world spanning plot thick with intrigue.  As he tries to make sense of the unfolding events he finds himself in he seeks profit for himself and finally the truth.

I found the plot slow to develop with too much time creating the local Mars environment and the current technology.  Veil's background and experiences as a mercenary locked in hibernation until needed that were tangentially discussed during the story were more intriguing to me than the story itself.
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If you liked Altered Carbon, you will definitely enjoy Thin Air.  Like Altered Carbon, Thin Air’s antihero is former military ( in this case biologically altered from before birth)  who has bucked the system and gone private. His sarcasm equals his sense of fair play, and while he is excellent at what he does, he doesn’t take orders.  Havana Veil is the modern sci-fi version of the classic noir detective. As in most noir stories, the detective finds the assignment he is given is just a cover for something much bigger, Veil soon discovers that babysitting Madison Madikwe isn’t what he was told it would be.  Mars is a dangerous place, a play Palace for the rich, a place of suffering and entrapment for the rest. Now that the corporate overlords are auditing the planet, unease is growing, as are rumors of revolution. Hakan Veil knows how to make trouble, but will his connections and ingenuity be enough for him to unravel one of the largest conspiracies ever to threaten Mars.  


Thin Air is an astounding book.  The writing puts you directly into Hakan’s head, seeing with his eye.  It’s a difficult style of writing to master, but Richard K Morgan does an excellent job.  I found myself immersed in the action from beginning to end. Naturally as both Altered Carbon and Thin Air are sci-fi noir, the two have some common elements.  But the stories themselves are in no way identical. If you like sci-fi noir or sci-fi action, I heartily recommend Thin Air.


5 / 5


I received a copy of Thin Air from the publisher and Netgalley.com in exchange for an honest review.


— Crittermom
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