I read a lot and as I've got better at writing (and more confident in my writing), most of what I read either makes me feel 'I can do this too' or 'That's a good way of doing it'. Occasionally, I read something that makes me feel talentless and stupid, that makes me realise how big the gap is between where I am and where I want to be. Richard Morgan's Black Man is one of those books. It was amazing.
Something about this book made it seem better than everything I've read in a long time. All the basics are there and are done well. It's a great plot, with twists and turns but no cheats. There are two key moments where I wasn't sure what was going to happen next (in a good way) and in the end everything came together to create a full understanding of what had happened. The plot was really strong and well paced.
Worldbuilding is something I particularly noted. Morgan throws the reader into his world immediately and just leaves them to catch up. It's slick and realistic. I don't know if it's just that I haven't read much new science fiction lately, but it seemed really modern. It seemed like Morgan is really up on current affairs, cutting edge science and social/psychological theory and his vision of the future jumps off from now. He has lots of little details that really ground the book and make it real, such as having the characters reference celebrities, music, intellectuals and gurus. My over-riding impression was that this was a really intelligent, thorough book.
The characters were well-drawn, believable, with deep inner worlds and congruent outer actions. It was all done through inner monologue, for the POV characters, dialogue and action. The action scenes were exciting, convincing and pacy.
It's not perfect. I noticed one or two clunky adjectives and awkward turns of phrase but that was all in a 600+ page book. I think that what makes this work so well is that all the elements are done to a high standard. There are many enjoyable books that have good plots with ok characters, or great writing and weak plots, or fascinating characters with nothing to do. Few books get everything right, and this is one of them. And on top of that, the themes are intelligently thought through in a fascinating way. Read it. It's amazing.
In non-fiction news, I read The Courtesans by Joanna Richardson, which is a book of short biographies of 19th century French courtesans. Interesting, and full of tidbits for the work-in-progress!