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Titanium Noir

May 24, 2023

Nick Harkaway’s previous novels have been literary fiction with humor and a science fiction or fantasy element, as they explore new ideas in science and technology. It’s an interesting genre mix. Recently, however, he’s been writing detective fiction under a different pen name, Aidan Truhen, which is an anagram of “Diana Hunter”, who is a character in Harkaway’s novel Gnomon. And now the novelist (the son of a spy thriller novelist who used the pen name John Le Carre) has blended the fiction written under both of his pen names, Harkaway and Truhen, to write a detective novel with a science fiction element, Titanium Noir.

The ”titanium” of the title is a fictional drug called Titanium 7 (or T7), a rejuvenation treatment that prolongs life by stimulating a second puberty in an already-adult body, healing any damage but also making the body bigger with each dose. The few people who have access to the drug are called “Titans.” It’s not actual necromancy, but it sounds pretty necromancy-adjacent.

When a dead Titan turns up, Cal Sounder is called to investigate. He seems like a typical human detective but he turns out to have secrets, as almost everyone in this novel does. We get the typical hard-bitten detective patter in the opening chapters, as when Cal interviews a potential witness in the building where a body has been found and the witness “says it happens he is having a particularly bad month owing to some poor financial investments in the field of canine athletics.”

The detective patter is adapted to a science fiction world:
“I shuffle all the way back on the dead man’s office chair until my feet come off the floor and then I push off with my right hand so that I’m spinning slowly around. The chair is a science chair, translucent and nasty. They take a seed from your ear cartilage and grow it and then you sit in it because something something immune response something biota. Supposedly it’s good for you, but who knows?”

Cal’s world includes an organ donation service with a national database, where “non-specific items like nerves get put into a transit pattern so that wherever your hospital is there’s always a package within a couple of hours’ travel. The rare stuff goes to the medical spine depots and sits in a pulsatile-perfusion system getting fed nutrient soup and staying viable until needed. Life after death, unevenly distributed.”

This novel includes one good way to address a 21st-century audience: “LAAAADIIIES AND GENTLEMENNNNNN! AND OTHERS MORE INTRIGUINGLY COMPLEX! WELCOME!” The humor is usually incidental, as in the way Cal thinks about the cops he is working with:
“There’s two dozen cops at Officer Mullen’s place and every one of them is giving me that look. Tania Garcia frowns when she sees me and I can tell she thinks I shouldn’t be there. I think that too. I also think Mullen shouldn’t have shot me and that nice things should be free to nice people and really expensive for assholes, but this is not the day when any of us gets what we want.”

It turns out that Cal is on the trail of a scientist and a doctor who were developing
“in-body reprofiling…so that if you were to combine it with T7 you could not only grow young, but customize yourself from an ever-increasing array of desirable genetic traits. Grant yourself natural beauty or tetrachromatic vision, or the relevant cerebral structures of a mathematical genius; effortless human perfection. The next stage in Titan speciation.”

Cal’s investigation gets him beaten up and shot, and when he discovers strife between the Titans he is laughed at by the 4-dose Titan Stefan Tonfamecasca, causing “sonic injury.” He finds evidence of a crime in an unlikely place and pursues it until he finds his way past the stories the Titans tell about themselves to the truth of some of their origins, changing his working relationship with them and also a private relationship with Stefan’s daughter (Cal never describes the length of his lady friend’s legs, but you can be sure that they’re longer than the legs of most women).

The novel wraps up quickly with a satisfying conclusion to the murder mystery and a happy ending for Cal. It’s a brief novel for Harkaway, only 236 pages, and so if you’re like me you’ll read it quickly, enjoy it hugely, and find it too soon over.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. May 27, 2023 11:44 am

    I had no idea he was John Le Carre’s son. I have a library patron who likes Harkaway so thanks for the reminder to put her on hold for this title.

    • May 27, 2023 11:47 am

      I think that, like other talented sons of famous men, he wanted to make his own name, although the rhyme of Harkaway with Le Carre is amusing.
      Glad to hear you have a library patron who’s a Harkaway novel fan!

Trackbacks

  1. TITANIUM NOIR: sombres affects d’un transhumanisme capitaliste | Xeno Swarm
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