Thursday, April 28, 2011

BOOK REVIEW: Broken Angels by Richard Morgan

Richard Morgan's Takeshi Kovacs novels have a stellar reputation among hard core science fiction fans. I have previously enjoyed reading Morgan's first book in the series, the exciting Altered Carbon, which introduces the Takeshi Kovacs character to the world.

In the second book Broken Angels, Morgan puts Kovacs in another compelling and very dangerous situation, while still maintaining the character's unlikeability. The themes of the first book, explicit sexuality, corporate greed, capitalist malfeasance, dangerous technological advances, and dehumanizing violence, all return in even greater amounts in the sequel.

Altered Carbon made Richard Morgan seem like the second coming of Dashiell Hammett with Takeshi Kovacs a 24th century Sam Spade, like a cross between Blade Runner and The Maltese Falcon. I am chosing movies to relate Morgan's book to on purpose. Although Broken Angels is very different from Altered Carbon, it is also so vividly written that the story has substantial cinematic potential. It really seems like it is only a matter of when, not if, we will see major motion pictures based on the works of Richard K. Morgan.

The story this time begins with Kovacs as a mercenary fighting in a civil war on a planet called Sanction IV, as part of a unit called Carrera's Wedge which is helping a company called the Mandrake Corporation achieve its goals during a bloody, planet-wide, military conflict. One of the basic tenets of Broken Angels is that war is commerce conducted by other means (and vice versa!)

Kovacs leaves his unit when he meets Jan Schneider, who says he needs help for a scheme to smuggle an ancient Martian treasure off-world. In order to make their score they need to break out an archaeologist named Tanya Wardani, which Kovacs does and then enlists a mid-level executive named Matthias Hand at the Mandrake Corporation to finance the logistics of the retrieval operation, which of course have to occur dead smack in the middle of the war zone.

The story turns into a cross between Raiders of the Lost Ark and (the first exploration-heavy hour of) Alien. Again, as in the first book, the most important draw is Kovacs, with his near-superhuman reflexes and situational loyalty. Kovacs find and trains an elite team of experienced warriors to go on the expedition with him, but he's really the only one we care about is Kovacs. Kovacs protests (too much) that he only cares about his survival as well but his actions belie this expressed belief. Morgan's action scenes are another highlight of the book, especially when told from Kovacs perspective and internal monologue.

Broken Angels is a memorable entry into the genre of hard-core, hard-bitten military science fiction by another talented British writer. Fans of Peter F. Hamilton and Alastair Reynolds (which includes yours truly) will be thrilled to discover another author who possesses similar adeptness at creating rich, believable future worlds peopled with intelligent characters fighting battles against powerful (and sometimes alien) forces.

Title: Broken Angels.
Author: Richard K. Morgan
Length: 384 pages.
Publisher: Del Rey.
Published: March 2, 2004.

OVERALL GRADE: A (4.0/4.0).


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