Friday 25 May 2012

Broken Angels by Richard Morgan

Richard Morgan is one of a current wave of British hard SF authors ("hard" in this sense meaning set in distant space-travelling futures with lots of advanced technology), some others being Alastair Reynolds, John Meaney, Neal Asher and (although a lot quirkier) Iain M Banks. Having said that, Morgan has more recently branched out into fantasy. Until now, the only book I had read by Morgan was his first, Altered Carbon, which won the 2003 Philip K. Dick Award for Best Novel. The sequel, Broken Angels, was published a year later.

I read Altered Carbon when it first emerged and was sufficiently impressed to keep it for another read sometime. I have yet to get around to that, but fortunately Broken Angels is set thirty years afterwards and, although it features the same principal character, Takeshi Kovacs, the plot is not related so they do not have to be read in order.

The time is the 26th century when humanity has spread to many star systems, thanks in part to the discovery of the remains of an ancient galactic civilisation, known as the Martians since their remains were first found there. Physical travel between the stars is limited to sublight speed, but communications are much faster through subspace. A person's consciousness can be digitally stored and sent via subspace to be implanted in another body grown for the purpose, known as a "sleeve". Consciousness can also be stored in small data nodes called "stacks" implanted in a body, which can be used to "resleeve" people who have died.

This civilisation is loosely monitored by a United Nations Protectorate which enforces its will be means of "Envoys", highly trained operatives. Kovacs is an ex-Envoy who, at the start of Broken Angels, is working for a feared mercenary organisation called the Wedge. Rumours of a dramatic discovery, in the form of a complete Martian starship, cause him to join a race to find and secure this enormous prize, in which all of his Envoy skills are needed just to secure his survival.

This is a complex novel, told by Kovacs in the first person. It portrays a brutal and cynical world of corporate power overriding any humanitarian concerns. It involves frequently shifting relationships, betrayal, explicit sex and a lot of violence, so those of a sensitive disposition had better avoid it. I found it took me a while to get into it, but I read the second half of this long book in one late-night sitting. A memorable tale, but not for the faint-hearted.

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