The cover for the final volume of Robert Jordan’s and Brandon Sanderson‘s the Wheel of Time, A Memory of Light, has just appeared. Although the artist has changed, from Darrell K. Sweet who passed away before completing his cover to Michael Whelan, I find the cover as appalling as the previous thirteen covers in the series… With the same frozen features and caricaturesque characters, unrealistic depictions (look at the way Rand holds this sword!) and women at the back. I know, I know, I should not expect highly creative covers for fantasy books, but other recent books have managed much better, from Sanderson’s Mistborns (other series of Sanderson do not succeed so well, incl. Elantris) to Abercrombie’s trilogy (and his The Heroes), admittedly the coolest covers so far, to Morgan’s The Steel Remains, to Karen Miller’s series of The prodigal mage … Even the alternative e-book covers for the Wheel of Time are quite acceptable, so I really wonder why the publisher sticks at those ugly and outdated covers. Anyway, this is now a sort of tradition! The final volume is planned for early January 2013, which is in tune with what Brandon Sanderson told us last year when giving a public lecture in Paris. There is much expectation about this book, the culmination of a series I started reading more than 20 years ago!
Archive for Richard Morgan
“…my intention is that anyone reading The Cold Commands should feel a constant sense of relevance in the narrative, an eerie familiarity of issue and circumstance, a intense sense of now. And that does seem to be something that the fantasy genre as a whole works quite hard at shying away from.” R. Morgan, interview on Science Fiction & Fantasy, Cot. 20122
Over the trip to Banff last week, I managed to read Richard Morgan’s The cold commands, which is the sequel to The steel remains, that I read and reviewed a while ago. It has the drawback of a sequel in that most of the novelty wears off: most characters are the same as in the previous volume, while new characters tend to die quickly and rather unexpectedly, the battle scenes are not very different either, and the plot is a continuation of the previous story. This said, the book makes for a decent middle book in the series (“in that sense, Cold is probably the least standalone novel I’ve ever written“, R. Morgan) as better discussed in this review (spoilers included), and I am thus looking forward the third volume. (Abercrombie’s second volume Before they are hanged was more disappointing by comparison.)
The most complex and interesting character in this book is certainly Ringil faced with powers he does not truly understand and with loyalty to his friends that almost certainly leads him to his death, if in virtual spaces. It must be brought to Morgan’s credit (or was it unintentional?!) that he even demotes one of the three main heroes of The steel remains, Egar, to a lackluster situation requiring the others to rescue him from his own stupidity! I also feel that the third character, Archeth, was under-exploited and too prone to soul-searching. At least within this volume. The depiction of the rising religious fanaticism of the Citadel is a well-constructed (if uncomfortably close to real-world religions) aspect of the book, even though why this is essential for the alien dwendas to return in the world escaped me. Other than that, I found myself enjoying for the first time the mix of fantasy and SF therein, a mix that I usually dislike (even in the Wheel of TIme, this usually puts me off!). This must be due to Morgan’s excellence in writing SF… Thus, if you are ready to face more graphic sex and violence, while hoping that the final volume will show the best of Richard Morgan’s skills, I would clearly advise reading this second volume!
“Human intuition is deceptive because it is not always consistent. It is not necessarily a good fit for the environments we now live in, or the mathematics that underlie them. When it does echo mathematical form, it’s clearly indicative of an inherent capacity to detect that underlying mathematics (…) When they clash, the mathematics remains correct. The intuition merely indicates a mismatch of evolved capacities with a changed or changing environment.” Black Man, p.441
“thirteen is the only genetic variant Jacobsen thought dangerous enough to abrogate basic human rights on. You’re talking about a type of human this planet hasn’t seen in better than twenty thousand years.” Black Man, p.102
This is the last book by Richard K. Morgan I read (after the Kovacs series, Market Forces, and The Steel Remains). It has also been published under the title Thirteen (or Th1rte3n..) Black Man has some resonance with Broken Angels, with the central hero, Carl Marsalis, having some common points with Takeshi Kovacs. However, while the theme of a future hard-boiled hired detective in a bleak future is found in both novels, both Carl Marsalis and the tone of the novel are much more pessimistic than the Kovacs series, with no-one getting a clean and nice grade by the end of the book… The description of the future Earth is less technical than in the other novels, the focus being more on race, power, and politics. Carl Marsalis himself is facing a double stigma in this futuristic society, by being a black man and a genetically modified human, restored to the primal urges of 20,000 BC Homo Sapiens, a “thirteen”. Add to this being a traitor to his group by hunting runaway thirteens for a UN police force.
“Carl entered the equation with no local axe to grind, and nothing to loose…” Black Man, p.305
The book starts like a space opera, but quickly gets grounded to the former U.S.A., split between a relatively tolerant Rim and backward Jesusland. The action immediately quicks in as well with many characters central to one chapter and dispatched in the next. Which made my reading the first hundred pages a bit hard. But after that the central characters were well-enough done to get familiar and the remainder of the story went by very very fast…
“After a while, when you’re on your own out there, you start making patterns that aren’t there. You start asking yourself, why you? Why this fucking statistical impossibility of a malfunction on your watch? You start to think there’s some kind of malignant force out there.” Black Man, p.328
Judging from some reviews found on the web, readers seem to prefer the Kovacs series. I am more ambivalent, in the sense that the pace and setup of the series is more grandiose and breath-taking. However, the less military/more political [in the wide sense] vision of the Black Man really got me in its grip and the ending(s) was (were) a superb piece of literature. The announced departure of one of the major characters is very well rendered. Both novels are excellent books, that’s all! To wit, one got the Philip K. Dick Award, while the other got the Clarke Award. (Somehow inverted: Black Man would have been more fitting for the Philip K. Dick Award. If only because Marsalis’ hunt for fellow thirteens was reminded me of Deckhard’s parallel hunt in Blade Runner—a.k.a. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?)
“When a man you know to be sound of mind tells you his recently deceased mother has just tried to climb in his bedroom window and eat him, you only have two basic options.” R. Morgan, The steel remains
Over the trip to Edinburgh, I read the (first) fantasy book by Richard Morgan, The steel remains, and it reads awfully well! Given the other books of his I read so far, this is not very surprising. (A stylistic improvement over those is that marks are used as terminations of sentences, not as word separators as in so many sentences in the Kovacs series. Almost. Surely.) The plot summary looks like the standard one: retired hard-boiled mercenaries from a all-powerful empire get reunited to fight a terrible threat only them can vanquish. And they do. This sounds like the last fifty fantasy novels I mentioned, right?! Well, not exactly, because the above heroes are far from the down-the-shelf heroes (in the same way Abercrombie’s Heroes are anything but heroes…!) Actually, there is a lot in common between Morgan’s and Abercrombie’s types of fantasy, mostly that they both clearly escape almost all canons of the genre, towards the gritty, the gory, and the obscene. A wonderful mix. Which explains why Abercrombie wrote a rather enthusiastic review. With the surprising (given Abercrombie’s own prose!) reservation that “a few may reasonably think it could have been just a tad less lurid at times and gained punch as a result”! Continue reading
Being on a boat for a week means a lot of spare time for reading. Here are the books I read last week.
Kafka on the shore, a long allegorical and fantastic novel by Haruki Marukami. Here is a pretty good review from the New York Times. The book is indeed obscure and confusing, with unexpected forays of the supernatural, but I liked it very much nonetheless. The Oedipus story of the boy in search of his mother is gripping, although I missed some of the Greek (and all of the Japanese) mythology references. Puzzling, at times perturbing, a major novel.
Market forces is the fourth novel of Richard Morgan that I have read. It is much less successful than the three other ones constituting the Takeshi Kovacs cycle, telling the story of a corporate Mad Max like universe where road duels are legal and where mercenary companies are controlling wars all over the World. Some psychological aspects of the story are interesting, like the conflict between the main character and his relatives, however the whole universe is not credible and there are too many deus ex machina occurences. I do not think I would have finished Market forces elsewhere than on a boat! (I am still looking forward the fantasy novel Richard Morgan wrote…)
The winner in the series is certainly The lies of Locke Lamora, by Scott Lynch. I loved the book and read it in less than twenty four hours! It is a sort of fantasy Ocean’s Eleven, following my son’s description of the book (he also read the book, right after Best served cold), setting a clever con artist in a Venezia-like city and following his team through increasingly complex schemes until all falls apart. The dialogues are quite funny, the setting is completely convincing, and the background plot unravels superbly. I am clearly looking forward the second volume in the series. Red seas under red skies. (The following volumes are in the coming, apparently due to an on-going depression of the author…) One highly critical review of The lies of Locke Lamora on Strange Horizons Reviews induced a lot of flak: I however think the reviewer makes the right point when she states that “Lamora [the character] is not very interesting”. It is true that the book somehow lacks an in depth psychological analysis of the characters, incl. Locke Lamora. Nonetheless, it makes for “an enjoyable summer novel—not much depth, but a whole heck of a lot of fun” (to steal from the review out of context!).
I have now finished a third volume by Richard Morgan, Woken Furies. As a third book, the incredible novelty has somehow worn out (in terms of a new Universe, new characters, etc.) but it remains a very good book, exploring the society and the political structures glimpsed during Broken Angels. On the positive side, the book explores at last the possible paradoxes created by resleeving as the occurrence of autonomous doubles, uncontrolled reincarnations, and the permanent loss of a person. The main character, Kovacs, is as ambiguous as in the previous novels, with terribly dark sides—as in his “crusade” against a religious order responsible (in action or creed) for the definite death of his lover—and a beginning of a self-questioning that is rather interesting. A wee related with [my favourite] Chandler’s The Long Goodbye. Religious orders are thus more present than in the earlier volumes, maybe too close to existing situations, but interesting nonetheless. The fact that the reincarnation happens with the lost leader of the main revolutionary movement of the past centuries has obvious consequences on the political setting of Kovacs’ universe. The pace is as fast as in the other books, with a lot of unexpected deaths and combats, even though both the sleuth work and the military perspectives of the previous books. On the less positive side, I find some dialogues rather poor and lacking in perspective, some characters difficult to understand or improbable, a lack of constancy in Kovac’s beliefs, and (as previously) some chance occurrences completely unbelievable. All in all, this remains a high quality and enjoyable scifi’-cyberpunk novel! (Now is time to switch to another author, for a change!)
`Statistically, ‘ she breathed.
`Yeah. You thought of that too. Because statistically, the chances of two expeditions, eighteen months apart both having the bad luck to stumble on deep-space cometary intersections like that?’
Following my enthusiastic trip through Altered Carbon, I read the (2003) sequel Broken Angels within a few days, mostly during my day trip to Shanghai. Not only is it an excellent book, once more!, but Richard Morgan manages to change the plot and the atmosphere so much that it hardly feels as the same character is involved in both. There are a few links with Altered Carbon of course like the past of Kovacs and the reincarnation facilities (resleeving) but so few that the book could read on its own. The setting is very different, in that the main characters try to unearth (!) an artifact from an alien species (rather stupidly, or not?!, called Martians) in the middle of a planet war and in a highly radioactive zone. Apparently no longer sleuth work for Kovacs but a lot of action, even though he needs to uncover traitors, double-traitors and motivations. In my opinion, the ancestry of the book once again includes cyberpunks William Gibbson [more Count Zero than Neuromancer, with the predominant role of Voodoo, but still a major role of virtual realities], and Neal Stephenson (Snow Crash), but also Clarke with Rendez-vous with Rama, in that the entry into the Martian vessel is trying to describe an alien culture through its architecture with some degree of success. (In some sense, there is also a link with Greg Bear‘s Blood music, in that the military bioengineers in Broken Angels have designed a self-mutating nanotech device that reconfigures at the molecular level to overcome any new defense it encounters. With overwhelming efficiency. Until it hits the Martian defenses. Something similar to Bear’s blood cells getting progressive control of the Earth…) If I really have to draw a comparison between both volumes, I would reluctantly rank Broken Angels (very) slightly above in that the story was more clearly drawn than Altered Carbon which somewhat suffered from subplots. Today, I found the third Kovacs volume, Woken Furies in my mailbox at Dauphine, so I am looking forward yet another switch in style and background!