Saturday, April 12, 2008

Future Wyoming still a place to hide out

In 100 years, humans will be on Mars and the U.S. is divided into West Coast "Rim" states (as in "Pacific Rim"), the Union in the northeast, where the U.N. seems to hold sway, and Jesusland, which is basically what coasters now refer to as "flyover country." You state may be a part of Jesusland. Wyoming is, and so are the Rocky Mountain states, the Midwest and -- of course -- Dixie.

This is the future world in Richard K. Morgan's "Thirteen," which in the book cover is rendered as TH1RTE3N. Pretty clever. A "thirteen" is a variant human, one who has been bred with enhanced fighting skills, an overload of testosterone and a shortage of conscience. Because the male population of what used to be the USA has been feminized, there's a need for thirteens to fight wars and kill the infidel. Problem is, when the infidels are gone, the thirteens come home to kill their countrymen/women. Kind of like a swarm of Timothy McVeighs, but with more muscle. So the authorities round up the thirteens and send them to Mars. Carl Marsalis is an exiled thirteen who comes back to Earth and finds work as a detective who tracks down other recalcitrant thirteens and kills various bad guys. Good work if you can get it.

But then he stumbles upon a super-secret plot to breed a new strain of thirteens. But the plotters realize that they need to find a remote place to corral these newbies. It's got to be some place in Jesusland, where the laws are lax and prisons are the growth industry. Guess which state is chosen for the internment camp? Yes, Wyoming. But then the plotters have to cover their tracks so they send in a unit to Wyoming to kill the new breed. Nobody notices because it's Wyoming, deep in Jesusland.

Marsalis stumbles upon this and then has to go after the plotters. His love interest (yes, thirteens can fall in love) is killed by a Haag gun in the process, a weapon with rounds that cause the immune system to fail once they enter the body. Then Marsalis is really pissed. Lots of people die, and most of them deserve it.

The book was a bit long for my tastes. Could have been a 100 pages shorter. But it was a fascinating read. It's interesting how Wyoming has become shorthand for "a wild and desolate place." Not only can two cowboys find a love nest on Brokeback Mountain, far from prying eyes, but a government cabal can stash a bunch of variant humans there and then kill them without anyone noticing. So, not much has changed from the time, 100 years in our past, when Butch Cassidy and his gang robbed trains and then disappeared into Hole-in-the-Wall. I thought Wyoming's energy boom was going to double our population and make it harder for variants to hide out? Burst my bubble.

Philip K. Dick's novel, "The Man in the High Castle," used Wyoming as the lair of the title character. In the novel, the Axis Powers have won World War II (or have they?) and the Japanese run the West Coast (Rim?) and the Germans rule the East Coast. Flyover Country in the Rocky Mountains is once again the site of malcontents and people with strange powers.

Any other books you know that feature Wyoming in this role? Idaho? Montana? I'd put Colorado into the mix, but the remoteness of some of its parts is rendered obsolete by the existence of the sprawling Denver metro area.

What say, readers?

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