Opening into an evolving new world where people are suffering from a highly contagious illness that causes them to burn from within when stressed, the pace is fast and we’re desperate for details. Enter cool headed school nurse Harper Grayson who is one of those remarkable people who manages to keep it all together in times of crisis.
Hill writes with confidence but there are assumptions made on his readers; a bit more clarification between the actuals and the fantastic would have been appreciated; in many of the action scenes of John (for example) we are not sure whether some of his fiery weapons are born from himself ie in the supernatural realm of his new capabilities, or if they are something more mechanical that he has created as a ruse.
Let’s talk size. The epic novels generally are also doorstoppers; we get that they require the commitment. What THE FIREMAN actually needed was a savage edit. We are quite caught up in the how the whole world is going down but if we’re investing in such a weighty novel, we need to see the disintegration of society on a grander scale. If the novel had to be confined to one town, perhaps it would have served the novel better to have a whole town story with multiple perspectives. This book has a lot of meandering filler which wasn’t required. It got at times a little insular and suffocating. With some tightening up, we may just have had the reader powering through, gratifyingly sure that there is a terrific battle or insight just around the corner.
Let’s talk characters! When they are facing the end of the civilized world, we really want to care about the survivors. It is hard to find anyone to empathize or care too much about in this novel. Our heroine makes a stupendously idiotic decision right at the start which affects her safety and mobility for the rest of the book. She compounds this soon after with another clanger. Everyone in her new community is either creepy or intent on living in a bubble when common sense would dictate they move the heck along before the town’s self-appointed saviours tracks them down.
THE FIREMAN for sure has that post apocalyptic wonder (who will survive, how will they survive?) and does a good job of conveying the fear and confusion in one pocket of the world as it all goes to hell. It doesn't quite balance the divide between horror and science fiction but will be the one to read when you are wanting to leave the world behind and be an observer in another possible version of our own.
BLACK MAN - Richard Morgan
The 13s are genetically engineered alpha males, designed to fight the century's last conflicts... but when there are no wars left to fight they become surplus to requirements. And a man bred and designed to fight is a dangerous man to have around in peacetime. Many of them have left for Mars, but one has returned... and a series of brutal murders has erupted across America.
Hands up if you, like me, a died in the wool thriller fan, were just a bit hesitant about BLACK MAN when you saw "science fiction". All I can say is put your hands down and get to a bookstore!
Carl Marsalis is a 13, but he works for the UN, tracking down rogue thirteens. Not a particularly pleasant job really - he's loathed by the other 13's as a traitor and a sell out. The rest of the community regard him as a twist, treating him with suspicion and frequently fear. Thirteen's have a reputation. In BLACK MAN Carl is released from jail to help track down a very rogue 13. After what seems to have been an on purpose crash of a ship from Mars, Merrin is lose on earth and his genetic trace is found at a startling number of brutal murder scenes - in Rim State and in surrounding territories. Merrin has obviously been bought back to earth as some sort of a hired killer but nobody knows why, or who his victims will be, or how they could even be connected. COLIN operatives Sevgi Ertekin and Tom Norton must work with Carl to find the killer and stop him.
BLACK MAN builds a world in the future that's not so far removed from the current that the reader feels stranded. The geography of Earth hasn't changed - the nations, in the main, still exist. Mars is now a colony of Earth, serving as a resource and almost a penal colony, and a secession has split America into two parts. There's highly advanced technology - space travel / general travel; advanced medicine; genetically engineered humans; even basic blinds in your home are different - but none of the "science fiction" is too hard to swallow, in fact it almost becomes invisible within the story. There's still the problem of catching the right flights to catch the shuttles; there are gardens and streets; tensions within families; racial differences; the problems of hangovers and getting shot still hurts, but all of it has a general feeling that this is life as you could believe it could be. Sure there's drugs that help with the hangover that we could only dream of nowadays - but that's the point - it doesn't seem unreasonable to dream.
Within the world that BLACK MAN creates there are also some telling points about humans in the future and how far we haven't gone. It's no co-incidence, one would assume, that Carl is a variant thirteen and a black man. There's a telling multi-layered prejudice being explored here. The full range of genetically modified humans are distrusted, marginalised, despised frequently, just as are humans from other nations and states (which is still going on in BLACK MAN's future). Within circles there are levels of hierarchy, even within each specific group there are levels and Carl, as a Black Variant thirteen is marginalised. Get him working to catch rogue 13's and he's so far on the outside that he belongs nowhere. Of course 13's don't really have feelings of attachment or empathy for others, but then Carl's just that slight bit different from everyone else.
At close enough to 550 pages long, BLACK MAN is a thumping big tome. Love interests that really work; social observation that is as valid for today as it seems it could be in the future; human foibles and frailty in all it's "glory"; I laughed, cringed, sniffled, cheered and read bits peaking through my fingers. No padding, fast paced, totally absorbing with a lot going on - there's some great things being said by BLACK MAN.