(Gollancz, £10.99, 394 pages, trade paperback, ISBN 0-575-07324-1;
also available in hardback priced £17.99; published 20 March 2003.
Mass market paperback, £6.99, 490 pages, published 18 December 2003.)
If Richard Morgan's first book, Altered Carbon, grabbed your
attention by the scruff
of its neck then Broken Angels will lock it into a sustained
Half Nelson. Takeshi Kovacs is still with us and Morgan's disturbing
style is just as focused as before. However, this is slightly more thoughtful
and expansive (and, dare I say it, more 'mature'?) book than the first,
although just as fast-moving and intense.
Kovacs now has a 'good' job working for a mercenary corps that is being
paid by the UN Protectorate to suppress a revolution on the planet Sanction
IV. Recovering from the disaster that was his last mission, Kovacs is
approached with information about a startling piece of newly uncovered
Martian technology just waiting to be dug up in a piece of no-man's-land
on Sanction IV (the 'Martians' aren't actually from Mars, but the first
remains of their civilisation were detected there so the name has stuck).
He takes the bait and, after rescuing the artefacts' discoverer from
a concentration camp, and with hard-won sponsorship from a middle-sized
corporate player, assembles and joins a team to unearth and assess the
Once this band of archaeological guerrillas have arrived at the site
they have a number of urgent problems to deal with, not the least of
which are imminent death by radiation poisoning (following a nuclear
strike on the nearest city), the presence of a saboteur on the team,
an experimental colony of nanobots seething away nearby, possible attack
by rival corporate-sponsored groups and, last but not least, the utterly
unknown nature of the Martian artefact they're trying to recover.
Let me put it this way: Broken Angels is at its most laidback
right at the beginning when Kovacs, very severely injured and chemically
poisoned, is dumped onto the ice-cold floor of a hospital ship in Sanction
IV orbit along with most of his badly wounded colleagues. After this,
things generally get grimmer and tenser in geometric progression.
Morgan's style remains visceral: lots of blood and graphic detail with
no pain or misery spared. Where his detail differs from the usual military
pornography is that it focuses upon the horrific pain and damage that
war, weapons and (interestingly and entirely connectedly) corporate
greed causes. Yes, the future is impressive; yes, the weapons are sometimes
cool; yes, the soldiers wielding them are as hard as nails; but there's
no glamorisation here -- quite the opposite, in fact. The future is
now but with bigger guns, space travel and holovideo. Sparkling technology
and the knowledge left us by the Martians has not significantly improved
the lot of anyone but the rich.
Takeshi's own business of war and killing is as good as it ever was
-- not that it's any less weary, cynical and soul-destroying. The heroism
and glory such a life might appear to involve are largely projected
retrospectively onto it by chickenhawks who weren't there at the time
and don't know what they're talking about; any genuine heroism that
does arise seems inevitably, in Kovacs' eyes, to be counteracted by
the pointless suffering and death of innocents.
Altered Carbon was a focused invective against the dehumanising
effects of technology and the money required to afford its benefits;
Broken Angels reaches further outside the personal and into the
social dimensions of Morgan's 26th century, albeit mainly by widening
the focus upon exactly the same problems as Altered Carbon. Comparisons
with, say, Blade Runner and cyberpunk are inevitable given that
both depict the future as shaped (if not quite actually run)
by huge corporations with only their own profits in mind. It's obviously
not a new idea in sf, but Morgan writes so well that this carefully
revealed recombinant vision of a future spinning agonisingly out of
control never feels like it's repeating either itself or others.
Broken Angels is another superb book by Morgan, it grips like
a vise and squeezes so much cynicism, rage and action into just 394
pages. If Altered Carbon was a headstrong breakdance then Broken
Angels is a demanding ballet.
Oh, and Morgan acknowledges a debt to John Pilger at the beginning,
which can never, ever be a bad thing in my view.
Review by Stuart Carter
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