Archive for Richard Morgan

Reading list

Posted in Books, Travel with tags , , , , , on August 16, 2011 by xi'an

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!).

Woken furies

Posted in Books with tags , , on July 9, 2011 by xi'an

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!)

Broken angels

Posted in Books with tags , , , , , , , , , , on June 18, 2011 by xi'an

`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?’

`Astronomical.’

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!

Altered Carbon

Posted in Books, Travel with tags , , , , on June 11, 2011 by xi'an

I happened to read Richard Morgan‘s Altered Carbon by chance, thanks to a colleague who left it on my desk and I wonder why this 2002 book did not get enough fame for me to have heard of it earlier. It is a fantastic (in the sense of superb, not of fantasy!) futuristic roman noir, set in a San Francisco more than 400 years from now. Altered Carbon is somewhat of a mix between Chandler and Gibson, in that the hero Takeshi Kovacs, is a hard-boiled private à la Marlowe, keeping well-hidden a soft inner core that takes over each time or so he meets a woman [which happens rather regularly in the novel], the whole thing taking place in a cyberpunk universe that reminds me of Neuromancer. In fact, the book has a lot in common with Neuromancer in that it is set in a highly technological universe, involves yakuza-like conglomerates and crime-ridden cities, San Francisco, a corrupted police force, an economy that seems centred on legal drugs and legal prostitution, computer viruses, virtual realities, some lingering influence of a vague Japanese culture, and they are both Philip K. Dick awardees. The major difference with Neuromancer is that the technology is not the point of Altered Carbon, the detective (and muscle) work being the focus. This use of a scifi world and of the possibilities offered by a sort of technological reincarnation makes for a very good plot in that the book does not get mired into endless descriptions but instead provides about the minimum explanation about the way this universe operates. It is delicate to draw the comparison with Neuromancer any further because, first, Neuromancer came twenty-five years ago and, second, Gibson always seemed more interested in the ethical and philosophical implications of this kind of culture. Anyway, Altered Carbon is truly gripping and, while I may have missed some of the intricate details of the plot, I had to rush through it to get the resolution, as in any Chandler‘s story. There are two sequels by Morgan involving Takeshi Kovacs and I am looking forward to them.