Science Fiction Book Reviews

Thin Air: Noir & Grunge on Mars

Thin Air slams out of the gate, throwing ultra-violence into a space-age noir that thrills on every page. With succinct writing and a brilliant grasp of the genre’s narrative form, Morgan has created a book that demands to be read. This isn’t the pristine Mars from your imagination. It’s a run-down, crime-laden den of iniquity, wrought with scandals and juicy secrets. That’s what makes it so fun to experience.

NOTE: I was provided a free copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for my honest, unbiased review. I only publish reviews of books I enjoy, and this novel meets that criterion.

THIN AIR

By Richard K. Morgan
Del Rey

Quick Summary: A contract agent with a shady past gets involved in a planet-wide operation that strikes at the bedrock of Mars society. As a simple mission becomes increasingly complicated and deadly, Veil begins to discover deep secrets that lead to a startling conclusion.

There’s a lot to enjoy from Richard K. Morgan’s latest novel. There is no exposition or build-up to the action. From page one, our protagonist Veil hits the ground running, taking down bad guys left and right. The dialogue is brilliantly rendered, the characters are a group of stressed out, pissed off Martians just trying to make a living. The setting is complete grunge with scant traces of that new Mars glow. Here are a few things I loved about it:

Morgan’s abilities as a writer blow me away. Thin Air fully engrossed me from the start with its no-holds-barred approach to storytelling. There is no waiting for things to happen. They slap you in the face when you least expect it, giving you a whirlwind of a read that keeps you on the edge of your seat. His approach to dialogue is equally impressive. It flows naturally, complete with Mars slang and that noir tinge. 

This is a Mars I loved to read about. Don’t get me wrong, I love the idea of a brand-new, shiny Mars complete with fancy gardens and bio-domes. But this version has the real grit of life, the underbelly of humanity poking through as it most definitely would. So many depictions of Martian society show it as this perfection of humanity and let’s face it – that wouldn’t be the reality. There’s crime, seedy bars and greedy corporations trying to make a buck wherever they can. There are good cops and bad cops. There’s the enormous metropolis and the dinky frontier towns. It’s all here, and it’s a startling, fascinating imagining of the future.

Veil is one of the most complex characters I’ve seen in science fiction. He’s a good guy with a scary edge, teetering on the verge of savior or monster. He has a hardcore past as a trained killer, giving his fight scenes an intensely violent depth. Beneath the surface, he has attachments to past colleagues and at least one woman, yet he remains closed off from a Mars he doesn’t wish to be a part of. It’s the complexity that I greatly appreciated as a reader. 

A great noir tale thrills you from start to finish. It winds you through a story that continuously builds up to a shocking conclusion. Thin Air fits the bill perfectly, adding new layers as Veil gets deeper into the plot’s core mystery. New players come at you gradually, with new details to throw on the pile. It’s exciting to read, knowing you might find another clue on the next page. 

There’s a complex conversation brewing within the Mars-Earth subplot. While Mars is technically a colony of Earth, most residents have never been there and have their own society and economy to sustain them. The question is, should Earth really have any jurisdiction over a colony hundreds of years removed from them? A constant battle of words and protests has been brewing for some time in this version of the future. It’s an interesting aspect to consider.

The technology is used brilliantly throughout the book, popping up on a personal and city-wide level. You’ve got visor comm systems that put cellphones to shame. Bullet trains that can travel around the world in a couple of hours. Skyscrapers created by nanobots swarming across building materials. It adds a great layer to this multifaceted story.

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