I have to direct your attention to a brand-new novel from one of my favourite authors and one of the rising stars (I’m sure he’ll blush at that, but it’s true) of the new wave of Brit SF, Richard Morgan. I’ve been a huge fan of Richard’s work since his debut novel Altered Carbon hit the bookshelves with both barrels (actually I was a fan before publication if you want to be pedantic). Altered Carbon, which went on to win a prestigious Philip K Dick award and was picked up by Joel Silver and Warner Bros for film optioning mixed SF with Noir detective fiction – think Raymond Chandler or Dashiel Hammet mixed with Rogue Trooper, Bad Company and Blade Runner; a simplification, but it gives you an idea.
Richard’s fourth novel – and his third to feature the excellent character Takeshi Kovacs – is Woken Furies, out this month. In it Richard fulfils a promise to many fans by taking Tak back to his home planet, Harlan’s World and allowing his past – and the planet’s turbulent history – to interweave. His youth before he joined the Envoys – a very special, special forces unit – and other previous adventures and relationships are fuelling his present actions (a violent vendetta against a religious sect) when events from Harlan’s World’s era of political revolution resurface in his path.
The reader is given not one but two versions of Takeshi Kovacs here – the first is the hardboiled Tak we all know and love from Altered Carbon and Broken Angels; the second is a much younger and far more arrogant version re-sleeved in another body by the Harlan family, the planet’s oligarchs. In this future people have their memories preserved on a cortical stack, allowing them to be inserted into new (and improved) bodies, a process called re-sleeving. Double-sleeving the same personality and holding a copy of an Envoy’s stack are both serious crimes – the Harlans are obviously very, very worried about something to risk transgressing these laws. Is it Kovacs (the original, if such a term can be used) who has them worried? Or is it something else entirely?
Either way you know Kovacs is going to come face to face with Kovacs at some point, with the inevitability of a classic Samurai film duel or Western gunfighter’s showdown; the clock hands are casting long shadows towards noon and in these novels you can’t take your heroe’s survival for granted, you know it could go either way (it certainly gives the phrase ‘generation gap’ a whole new meaning).
Again Richard has produced some stunningly effective prose with believable characters and more than a few moral reflections – personal and political – thrown into the furious action and violence, proving that you can have elegant, erudite writing and seriously high-octane action together. If you haven’t discovered why Richard Morgan has swiftly become one of the best SF writers in the UK then you are missing out. How can you not love a writer who, when describing the contrast between clunky human habitations and the ancient Martian architecture writes:
“On the Approach track, the human structures huddled small and solid, like ugly puppies at the feet of a fairytale princess.”
Richard’s previous novel Market Forces has just come out in paperback and is on the shortlist for this year’s Arthur C Clarke award (see the review and special offer on our webstore). It is a standalone, non-Kovacs novel set in a very near-future where free market corporate mentality has been allowed total freedom and executives literally fight for amoral contracts in high-speed motorway duels. Think Death Race 2000 meets Marx meets George Monbiot and you have a fiction too recognisably close to our contemporary world for comfort.