(U.S. title Thirteen
) is a sci-fi mystery novel from Richard K. Morgan
that feels like a Stealth Prequel
to the Takeshi Kovacs
In the future, humans toyed with a wide array of genetic experimentation to create different kinds of human, to be used for specific forms of labour - servants, soldiers, number crunchers. Each of them tapped into specific human traits, amplifying them at the expense of the others. The most problematic of the bunch? "Variant thirteen", a hypermasculine male variant, a genetic throwback to the eponymous hunters of the hunter-gatherer era, bred out through lack of necessity. Useful in times of war, in peacetime (or during colder wars) thirteens are dangerous, unstable and for that, socially ostracized. These days, they're mostly used as workforce in the terraforming of Mars...
But when a ship headed from Mars to a nanorack
on the Pacific Rim instead splashes down in the ocean, the crew apparently eaten
by a stowaway, the ugly truth rears its head: nobody catches renegade thirteens better than other thirteens
. And there's one that makes his living exactly doing that...
Aside from minor dating inconsistencies, the book feels very much like the Takeshi Kovacs setting before the discovery of Martians (or, if you will, as an alternate universe where they just weren't there to be found) and so has crude prototypes or precursors of much the same technologies - experia, virtual realities, rampant nanotech use, designer-virus-loaded bullets, etc, etc.
This book provides examples of:
- Adult Fear: How would you like your six-months-of-pregnancy unborn child to be removed from your womb and cryogenically frozen until its legal (and genetic) status as a human is ascertained? Those that procreate with human variants are swiftly stripped of human rights to a level comparable to those of the variants themselves.
- And I Must Scream: What Marsalis does to Amy Westhoff. Shoots her with a neurotoxin tipped dart, calmly informs her that it will paralyse her skeletal muscle system so she can't run, her lungs so she can't breathe or call for help, that she has about eight minutes to live, and leaves her to it. Turns out he's pretty mean when killing for revenge instead of for work or necessity.
- Anti-Hero: Marsalis flip-flops between Type V and Type IV depending on how personally involved he gets in the matter at hand.
- As You Know: Used quite a few times to paint the backstory of the world, usually well-justified by using people from non-overlapping social strata to do it (such as Marsalis explaining life on Mars to Ertekin or Rovayo).
- The Berserker: The entire reason thirteens were created to begin with. Many of them struggle to overcome the inherent rage issues, usually via meditation techniques.
- BFG: The sharkpunch, a device for divers for self-defense against sharks. Since it was designed to eviscerate attacking sharks under water, when used on dry land, its results are... rather messy.
- Bolivian Army Ending
- Boxed Crook: Thirteens not actively employed by government agencies have to choose between internment or being sent to Mars to participate in the colonization effort.
- Call Forward: Ertekin relays to Marsalis that she heard of a tech development making the digitization of the human mind possible in thirty or forty years from now. See also Stealth Prequel below.
- Chekhov's Boomerang: The sharkpunch.
- Chekhov's Gun: The functioning principles of Haag guns.
- Cluster F-Bomb: Thirteens in general, and Marsalis in particular, are fond of swearing up a storm when riled. And most of them are easily riled.
- Not only thirteens. Ertekin and even Norton do their part as well, not to mention the various criminals. Basically, every main character of the novel and most secondary ones swear like there's no tomorrow.
- Companion Cube: Marsalis grows surprisingly fond of the orange inmate jacket he gets to keep after he's freed from jail.
- Conversational Troping: As is usual for Morgan, half the time tropes aren't invoked or played straight at all, but are discussed by the characters nonetheless.
- Cryonics Failure: Discussed in great detail during the initial investigation of the crash landing of Horkan's Pride.
- Also happened to Marsalis on his trip back from Mars some years prior, and mentioned as having happened to an astronaut on a manned mission to Jupiter who subsequently went insane.
- It is later revealed that Marsalis himself went through this on his return journey to Earth.
- Dead Person Conversation: Elena Aguirre's appearances to Marsalis. See also Posthumous Character.
- Decoy Antagonist: Merrin.
- Divided States of America: Through some Noodle Incident involving China, the USA is now split into the rather progressive (both technologically and socially) Pacific States, an unnamed East Coast coalition that retains much of the modern-day American lifestyle and policy and The Republic (often referred to as Jesusland), consisting of the Confederate states and leading a patriarchal life of religious zealotry.
- Evil Brit: Marsalis, arguably.
- Fantastic Racism: Baseline humans all look down on human variants, or twists. Twist is used as a slur with all the appropriate negative reactions from those it is used against. It cuts both ways, as thirteens call baseline humans cudlips and "cattle".
- Genetic Engineering is the New Nuke: The Varian Thirteens were created as super soldiers. What they got were a bunch of highly trained, utterly driven killing machines who fall a long way outside normal moral and social contraints a human mind has. They made exceptionally capable insurgents, counter insurgents, commandoes and terrorists and caused substantial amounts of destruction and political destabilisation across the whole world before the Jacobsen Accords were signed and the world's governments had them all rounded up and imprisoned or sent to Mars.
- Half-Human Hybrid: Nothing prevents human variants from breeding with baseline humans. Glossed over until the each of the Wham Lines happen. It's pointed out that nobody really knows what, if any, modified traits the offspring will inherit since most human variants have only been created in the last few decades.
- Heroic BSOD: Marsalis undergoes one when Ertekin dies.
- Human Aliens: Invoked when several characters flat-out mention the closest one can get to meeting an alien is a thirteen. It helps that many thirteens see themselves as an entirely separate race from humans.
- Human Popsicle: Used for people traveling to and from Mars, to simplify their passage and the logistics of the ships themselves, as the spaceship engines are implied to be no better than they are now.
- Human Subspecies: Type 1, genetically modified. There's a lot of them, but most often mentioned are thirteens (hypermasculine males, created to be shock troops in times of war, but also make good criminals, physical laborers and serial killers) and bonobos (hyperfeminine females, created to be midwives, surrogate mothers, nurses, but often used as prostitutes instead). There are others, like hybernoids (can be either gender, they sleep through winter, but are hyperactive the rest of the year, requiring next to no sleep or rest) and gleeches (called "post autistic", used as researchers and hackers but find it very difficult to interact with other people), and China constantly keeps creating new types through experimentation (like female thirteens, for example).
- I'm a Humanitarian: Discussed in relation to Cryonics Failure leaving someone stranded awake on a ship bound from Mars to Earth or vice versa. Averted for Marsalis, played straight for Merrin.
- Looks Like Jesus: Merrin. Milked for all it's worth as one of his followers-slash-protectors genuinely believes him to be the Second Coming of Christ.
- Lottery Of Doom: Inverted. You can go to Mars whenever you want to, provided you're cleared for space travel on health reasons. Thirteens are happily shipped off to Mars if they don't want to be interned in a camp somewhere. But to get back from Mars? That's where the lottery comes in if you're not a contracted worker (they're shipped back once their contract expires and they opt not to renew it). Marsalis got off Mars by winning the lottery. Turns out he cheated.
- Magnetic Hero: It is mentioned several times (and demonstrated with both Merrin and Marsalis) that a thirteen that can get their rage under control can be exceptionally charismatic due to their hormonally-altered masculinity.
- Market-Based Title: Thirteen is the title for the USA, due to possibility of interpreting Unfortunate Implications from the original title.
- Mercy Kill: Marsalis gives these to people wounded by the Haag guns if he can. It takes a while for the other characters to wrap their heads around the reasons, but in the end Ertekin has to rely on that particular habit.
- Mohs Scale of Science Fiction Hardness: Very hard, right on the line between 4.5 (one small fib) and 5 (Speculative Science). Space travel is highly realistic (no FTL, no unlimited energy, although as the aforementioned fib they do seem to have artificial gravity), no energy weapons exist, most communication and transportation technologies are extrapolations of existing tech and even the genetics are fairly plausible.
- Neck Snap: Marsalis gives one of these to the Big Bad. Made possible due to his muscular augmentation.
- Noodle Incident: The Secession that brought on the Divided States of America. The most information we get about it is that China somehow had a hand in it.
- Not So Different: Merrin and Marsalis get compared a lot by other characters, and not just because they're thirteens that both suffered Cryonics Failure on their trip from Mars. Marsalis also takes offense at attempts to compare him to any other thirteen in general.
- N-Word Privileges: Marsalis and fellow inmate The Guatemalan are both black, but Marsalis does not feel that this makes the Guatemalan's favourite noun appropriate.
- Only One Name: Onbekend. Justified, as it stands for "Unknown", as he's the other Allan Merrin.
- Orgy of Evidence: Played with. The main court-admissible evidence of someone's presence at the crime scene is "genetic trace", which is unique for every person. Merrin's rampage across the US countryside leaves one orgy after another. The trick is, if it's a genetically engineered supersoldier that just happened to have an identical twin in a freak development of the already-modified egg, they would leave identical traces...
- The Plan: The reason for Merrin's arrival on Earth as it was but a step in a larger plan.
- Post Humous Character: Played with. Elena Aguirre is used as one for one-sided Dead Person Conversation purposes, but Marsalis's mind simply latched on to her face when his Cryonics Failure marooned him in space, he never met her after she was thawed on Earth, and she may be alive and well elsewhere for all he knows.
- Replacement Goldfish: Discussed, as those around her openly wonder whether Ertekin sees Marsalis as one for her deceased thirteen boyfriend, Ethan.
- The main UN colony on Mars is called Bradbury, another one is called Wells.
- The factory ship Marsalis and Rovayo visit is called Bulgakov's Cat.
- Stealth Prequel: For the Takeshi Kovacs series, even though Word of God explicitly says it was not intended as one. Still, much of the backstory fits (right down to the chronology and details of the colonization of Mars, as well as numerous tech-related CallForwards), although it can be considered an Alternate Universe, the divergent point being the discovery of Martians - Broken Angels explicitly lists the date, and it has already passed in this book's timeline.
- Subspace Ansible: Averted. Communications with Mars require around 15 minutes of waiting for your message to get there, the other side watching it, recording a reply, and waiting another 15 minutes for it to return, which means an average turnaround from 40 minutes to a whole hour. This is used as a plot point.
- Thousand-Yard Stare: People marooned in space can get it as part of the PTSD package. People returned to Earth from Mars get it whenever they see any body of water larger than a puddle.
- Title Drop: For both of them. "Thirteen" is the common way of referring to variant thirteens, so it gets used a lot. "Black man" is often used to refer to Marsalis (and he gets called that by several characters), as its implied his skin is of a particularly dark shade.
- Wham Line: "I'm a bonobo". Not that relevant to the metaplot, but a major revelation for the setting nonetheless.
- "I'm a thirteen" is later used in similar context with similar repercussions to the setting that aren't actually that significant to the protagonist.
- What Measure Is a Non-Human?: Explored in its applicability to human variants through the eyes of humans and vice versa. Some consider the variants to be broken humans, some regard them as subhuman, others (thirteens themselves most of all) consider them a whole separate race.