When the UK's Clarke Award announced its nominees, there was some comment about the number of quasi-literary novels on the short list, including Matthew de Abaitua's Red Men, Steven Hall's Raw Shark Texts and Sarah Hall's Carhullan Army. In the end, though, a fairly straightforward science fiction novel, Richard Morgan's future crime thriller Black Man (published in the U.S. as Thirteen), won this year's award.
Here's how Morgan described Black Man in an interview:
Black Man is set in the aftermath of a century of ill-advised and poorly regulated genetic experimentation, where an otherwise fairly successful global (and extra-global) community is struggling to come to terms with the legacy of the human damage done over the previous hundred years. I suppose you could draw a parallel with the way in which we now struggle with the human consequences of previous centuries of colonialism.
Carl Marsalis, the black man of the title is one of a series of engineered humans, in his case engineered for combat, who have been modified not so much in any physical aspect as in the way they think and feel. It's a specialism based on designed aptitude, and the book aims to show, among other things, that the aptitudes required or desired by our society are often very frightening things.
In tone, Black Man is quite similar to my Kovacs novels, in that it's a fairly high velocity crime-and-conspiracy thriller with a noirish lack of obvious good or bad guys - but the book addresses issues that the Kovacs series could only ever really meet obliquely because of the sleeving technology. Simply put, in the Kovacs universe physicality and death are problems that can be sidestepped. In the world of Black Man, as in our own, they aren't. You have to meet them head on.