Thursday, June 09, 2011

BOOK REVIEW: Woken Furies by Richard K. Morgan

The first two Takeshi Kovacs novels by Richard K. Morgan, Altered Carbon and Broken Angels, are pretty amazing, so it's bittersweet to be reading and reviewing Woken Furies, which is billed as the third and last of the series.

Each of the three books featuring Takeshi Kovacs written by Morgan is so different it's hard to call them part of the same series, but they do all feature Kovacs, a hard-bitten, world-weary, brutally efficient killing machine and violent mercenary with his own unique sense of fairness and justice in the very unfair universe of the future.

Altered Carbon takes place on Earth, in a faintly recognizable San Francisco Bay Area several centuries in the future, where Kovacs has been hired by an incredibly rich and old man to find out why he killed himself (or someone made it seem like he did). In Morgan's vision of the future consciousness download technology is  available, but not cheap. So, both Kovacs and the formerly dead man have been downloaded into new bodies (called "sleeves") from their memories stored in their "cortical stack." Morgan's depiction of an Earth of the future dominated by megalomaniacal oligarchs and capitalism run amok is weaved in with a  suspense-filled, violent hunt for the truth of the reason for the mysterious death. Synopsis: Maltese Falcon meets Bladerunner.

Broken Angels is set a couple decades in the future, subjective time, on a completely different planet called Sanction IV. Consciousness can be beamed from one planet (and star system) to another and then downloaded into a brand new sleeve. It's basically a way of virtually travelling at the speed of light. Kovacs begins the book in pure mercenary mode, fighting for the bad guys in a civil war he doesn't believe in . However, he goes AWOL to lead a mission to find and plunder a secret hoard of priceless alien artifacts with a corporate money man and two mysterious strangers he shouldn't (but does and doesn't) trust. Synopsis: Raiders of the Lost Ark meets Alien.

Woken Furies has Kovacs back on his homeworld, Harlan's World, which is 90% covered with water but also orbited by Martian artefacts which rain destructive "angel fire" on any "too large" object which exceeds a vertical distance of 400 meters above the surface. Kovacs is engaged in an extensive campaign of vengeful murder against a powerful religious sect who have rejected the promise of immortality via technology the consciousness download process provides. After saving a woman with advanced implants who was being attacked by some of the more militant members of the sect by slaughtering a half-dozen of them, he discovers that she is the head of a group of mercenaries who are working to decontaminate a nearby continent of abandoned military hardware with artificial intelligence that has run amok. The woman is named Sylvie and she can provide Koacs safe passage from the consequences of his latest massacre.

Kovacs ends up joining Sylvie's "decon" team and is able to get the team out of danger when a raid goes wrong and Sylvie is injured. While Sylvie is off-line she goes through an episode where it seems as if another personality is residing within her. The other personality appears to be Quellcrist Falconer, the most important revolutionary figure in the last several hundred years of struggle against the oligarchal families who run Harlan's World. Falconer has been dead for hundreds of years but Sylvie/Quellcrist appears to be aware of information that only Falconer would know.

Kovacs is being chased by a younger version of himself who is working for the Harlan family for reasons which are some combination of retribution for Kovacs' murderous rampage, a desperate attempt to find and neutralize Quellcrist/Sylvia and suppress any neo-Quellist revolutionaries and a desire to eliminate the competition provided by the "older-model" Kovacs.

All these motives and motivations are portrayed and resolved by Morgan in an engrossing way which is somehow not as compelling as the denouement in Broken Angels. He does make it possible that another Takeshi Kovacs novel of some kind could follow this one, but the author has expressed his desire for this to be the last one and moved on to writing a ground-breaking fantasy series, starting with The Steel Remains.
Morgan has quickly jumped to the top of my list of authors whose work I will look out for, just beneath the likes of Peter F. Hamilton, Patrick Rothfuss and Peter V. Brett.

Title: Woken Furies 
Author: Richard K. Morgan
Length: 480 pages.
Publisher: Del Rey.
Published: May 29, 2007.

OVERALL GRADE: A- (3.75/4.0).


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