Thin Air (Morgan novel)

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Thin Air
Thin Air (Morgan novel).jpg
First edition
AuthorRichard K. Morgan
Cover artistChristian McGrath
CountryUnited Kingdom
GenreDystopian cyberpunk military science fiction
Published2018 (Gollancz)
Media typePrint, ebook, audiobook
Pages544 (1st edition hardcover)
Preceded byBlack Man / Thirteen 
Followed bySequel being written 

Thin Air is a dystopian cyberpunk military science fiction novel by Richard K. Morgan first published in 2018. Set in the same reality as his 2007 novel Black Man (published as Thirteen or Th1rte3n in the United States), it is set "well over a century" later than the earlier novel, with all the action taking place on Mars, whereas Black Man / Thirteen is set on Earth.


Protagonist Hakan Veil was genetically engineered from childhood to be a "hibernoid", who spends 4 months of every [Earth] year asleep. Bred to be a crisis commando, he was fired and exiled to Mars after the failure of a mission and has since worked as muscle-for-hire. When United Nations officials come to Mars to audit political corruption, Veil gets embroiled in violent complications and political conspiracies.[1]

The book begins shortly after the protagonist, Hakan Veil, has woken up from his hibernation and is undergoing a "running hot" phenomenon where hibernoids feel an enhanced form of perception as well as increased physical aptitude thanks to their metabolic adjustments and augmentations. The first chapter involves Veil approaching a club owner who had wronged a friend of his at some point in the past and assaulting him with his club security. His first person exposition on his running hot state, the gear the bouncers are using and the jury-rigged equipment he brought with him reveals he has been on Mars for some time now and has previously taken side gigs before doing part-time work for a woman named Gradual within the local Triad. Afterwards, Veil is apprehended by police officer, Nikki Chakana, and taken into custody for his crime. Her beleaguered attitude and their first name basis continues to imply more of Veil's history with the locals. While in holding, Veil hears word of an audit from the Colonial Oversight Initiative (COLIN for short), and Chakana is tasked with escorting a diplomat from Earth named Madison Madekwe. Too worried about the local crime to care about some diplomatic issue from a distant, loathed oversight body, Chakana cuts a deal with Veil to let him go as long as he acts as Madison's bodyguard during her stay. [1]

Veil meets Madison as she arrives on Mars and proceeds to escort her around much of Valles Marineris (Mariner Valley) before reaching a hotel. While the two chat about COLIN, hypertrippers (Earth citizens touring Mars) and the financial issues of Mars, Madison reveals she's actually there investigating a lottery fraud. A key element of the story is a planetary lottery. Turns out life on Mars is so terrible that many people turn to crime to get the cash for a trip back to Earth (A Ticket Home, as many will say in the story). The lottery is a legitimate way to send people back to Earth, set up by COLIN mostly to keep the population holding onto a shred of hope. Madison reveals there was a lottery winner named Pablo Torres (A.K.A. Pavel Torres throughout the book) who has gone missing, and COLIN is worried about some kind of fraud being connected to their lottery by his killer. Before retiring for the night, Madison kisses Veil in the elevator, however they decide against a sexual encounter. Veil, not requiring sleep outside of his capsule, decides to get a head start on the Torres investigation. He contacts a few friends of his around the Valley including a hacker known as The Goat God, and discovers Torres is either dead or thoroughly 'unpersoned' by another power he might have upset, though the only concrete lead he can acquire is the name of Torres' girlfriend, Nina. After questioning her, sleeping with her and then going home, Veil is assaulted by a team of unknown assassins with military equipment. He survives and meets Chakana's response team. While she's concerned with him, she reveals Madison was abducted in the early morning from a travel terminal. [1]

Hakan Veil does the legwork on Madison's abduction. Captured footage shows a team that must be military or corporate trained, according to Veil. Gradual tells Veil she doesn't know how they got military hardware as there's no smuggling going on on Mars then, something she clarifies to mean there's no smuggling at all on the entire planet. The Goat God talks with Veil about how he and Hakan are disposable hardware with histories in Indenture Compliance, going after escaped Indentured Servants for the company that employed them, however can only tell Veil so much about the footage he has already acquired and dissected himself. The Goat God does explain however that the team was using shock and terror tactics to mask their clean extraction job. During his investigation, he meets with another old friend who's retired now, but married to one of the colony overseers under the main colony director, Mulholland. It's apparent to both of them that Mulholland is corrupt, however laugh at the irony that back in the day they would have been on his side. While Veil is initially suspicious, he comes to the conclusion his retired friend can't do much to hurt him. After chasing a few leads and interrogating some cultists about Torres, he is attacked by a corporate clean up squad out in Gingrich Field; they're are remarkably sloppy and one of them is killed by her own team's incompetence while Veil just watches. When his investigation begins running out of leads, The Goat God reaches him with a name: Hidalgo. [1]

The Goat God explains to Veil the rough history of Hidalgo as a big shot gangster back on Earth who's been spotted on Mars and is the biggest suspect left for Madison's abduction. As Veil goes to track him down, he is captured by Allauca, the wife of his retired friend, and some of her henchmen. She tells him Torres really did die and his death was simply a tragic accident, not a part of her and Mulholland's plan. After staging a violent escape, killing her henchmen and Allauca herself, Veil stays with Nina for a while before she casually mentions Hidalgo in conversation, revealing she knows him personally and has for some time. She helps him get in touch with Hidalgo, then the two men begin piecing together the puzzle. Hidalgo reveals Torres' death was, in fact, an accident. He tells Veil that he and Torres were attempting to rob a pharmaceutical office to acquire a set of cosmetics made on Earth, shipped to Mars and being packaged as "Mars Quality Craftsmanship," to increase the cost of it while keeping the costs as low as on Earth. During the heist, Torres simply slipped and fell from the roof of the building to his death. Veil eventually discovers Hidalgo has been setting the ground for a COLIN military take-over of Mars to put an end to Mulholland's corporate exploitation and corruption of the colony. Madison herself is fine, she wasn't even abducted, but was a COLIN plant who let herself be taken by Hidalgo's team to justify a COLIN intervention as their diplomat was taken. After a sexual encounter with Madison, Veil, opposed to both Mulholland's corruption and COLIN's military oversight, devises a plan to get rid of both of them. He kills Hidalgo and Madison while the Goat God begins hacking their naval network to sabotage their operation. Gradual is killed by Hidalgo's men. Veil is captured and brought to Mulholland by Chakana for numerous accounts of murder and crimes against the colony, however Chakana has a change of heart and frees Veil before helping him kill Mulholland and his security. [1]

Veil is heavily injured by the end of events and wakes up several days later in a hospital under Chakana's guard. He recovers and has something of a celebration with the Goat God, though struggles to be a social being and lets his friend take the spotlight. At the end of novel, Veil leaves the bar and walks home in the rain. [1]

Major themes[edit]

Morgan describes a Mars established as a colony for the benefit of Earth-based megacorporations, where potentially-dangerous industry can occur with minimal risk to humankind.[1] Several streets on Mars are named for Chicago School economists and conservative politicians;[1] in an interview Morgan stated that "neoliberalism has set loose a vast capital investment potential that certainly accommodates the necessary scale and ambition, but it is, of course, utterly rapacious, anti-humane and self-interested at the same time."[2] The protagonist's view of Mars repeatedly critiques the "Martian High Frontier Myth", reflecting a theme common to Morgan's works, of grandness left to decay:

There is a central conceit that I keep ... returning to ... of something grand and worthwhile being abandoned by vicious and stupid men in favour of short-term profit and tribal hegemony. ... So also with Thin Air — the landscape is littered with the markers of a retreat from the grand scheme of terraforming and building a home for humanity on Mars, in favour of an ultraprofitable corporate stasis and an ongoing lie of highly emotive intangibles sold to the general populace in lieu of actual progress.[2]

With Martian terraforming having been partly abandoned, the atmosphere is described as "four percent Earth sea level standard";[1][2] the colonists of Mars are of mainly Andean and Himalayan stock.[1]

Development history[edit]

Morgan has described that some of the vague concept of Thin Air had been in his head since around the time Black Man / Thirteen and that the reference to "a character on Mars, a hibernoid PI who’s hard as nails" in that novel was a template for Hakan Veil.[2] Morgan was embarrassed to describe that new-fatherhood meant that he hadn't found time to read Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy before writing Thin Air, despite having intended to.[2]

Publication history[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Richard Morgan (2018). Thin Air. Del Rey Books. ISBN 978-0345493125.
  2. ^ a b c d e Sara Martín Alegre (2018). "Martian Politics and the Hard-Boiled Anti-Hero: Richard Morgan's Thin Air" (PDF). Revista Hélice. 4 (11): 84–95. Archived from the original (PDF) on 4 February 2019. Alt URL

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