The second half of Abigail Nussbaum’s shortlist review, covering The Execution Channel, The Carhullan Army, and Black Man:
Carl is neither tormented nor a monster. He is a victim who revels in the results of his victimization. He is a person, and therefore more than the sum total of his biology or upbringing, but he is also inhuman, and therefore compelled to act in accordance with this inhuman nature, which inevitably means killing without remorse.
Morgan expertly maintains the tension between these two views of Carl, never allowing either one to gain supremacy. This allows him to interrogate the core assumptions of his own story, and taunt us with our warring desires for the character—victory and salvation. In Black Man‘s final third, Morgan uses the most common trope of the lone-wolf action thriller—having the villain kill someone the hero loves, thus spurring them to bloody action. Usually, in these kinds of stories, the hero will do one of two things—kill the villain, thus satisfying the audience’s bloodlust, or recognize that vengeance is futile, thus satisfying their sense of morality. Carl does both, and the marvel of Black Man is that by the time he executes his revenge we, the readers, feel the conviction that is so often stated, but so rarely believable, in these stories—that it’s futile, that it will accomplish nothing and help no one—while simultaneously realizing, on that same visceral level, that Carl’s nature compels him to take it anyway.
And Nic Clarke’s reviewed The Red Men:
The problem is that the crushing demands of corporate life are neither personally resonant nor remotely interesting to me, and as such I found it hard to muster much enthusiasm for plot or character, or to excuse the book’s storytelling and stylistic weaknesses. Martin Lewis, in his review over at Strange Horizons, sums up The Red Men‘s concerns brilliantly: “the book is actually at least partially about trying not to be a cock”. Fair enough, and clever with it; but over 400 pages of self-centred pigs creating and then putting right a fuck up, with little apparent impact on or reference to the world at large, all the while learning to be marginally less like self-centred pigs…? I am not compelled. The portrait of the more boorish, unrepentantly-sexist blokes among Nelson’s colleagues and superiors reminded me of another recent read, Ali Smith’s Girl meets Boy (a multi-Alexandrian discussion post of which is in the works); but there the men in question were not the centre of the story world, and a relief it was too.
And with that, I’m off to help decide the winner.