Richard Morgan, Market Forces. London: Gollancz, 2004. Pp. 469. ISBN 0575075848. £6.99 US: ISBN 0345457749. $14.95

Reviewed by ErrantNight

Market Forces is both a racy, violent, brilliant, exciting, barn-storming lightbike ride of a sci-fi thriller, and a deadly serious, cleverly-paced, wickedly ironic but none-too-subtle indictment of the globalising profiteers who simultaneously foment conflict in the third world and suck the same victims dry for a barrel of oil or an armaments contract. Morgan has put a lot of thought into both faces of this novel: the plot, characterisation, spectacle, and surprises are near-flawless; the corporate political model behind the story is credited to a Masters in development and a page-long bibliography. This is a different world from that protrayed in Altered Carbon (2002) and Broken Angels (2003), but Morgan is fast developing into a truly masterful novelist.

Chris, a successful young businessman who has made his name in Emerging Markets and with one high-profile road kill behind him already, has been headhunted by Shorn, a company specialising in Conflict Investment. In a world where executives ("zektiv", as angry punks from the Cordoned Zones call them) earn big money and have near-impunity in their protected world of big money and high risk, where jobs and contracts go to the man who can run his competitors off the road in brutal road-rage clashes, Chris has the bottle and the skill it takes to get ahead, but his greatest asset is also his one weakness: his conscience. As he rises in Shorn, he makes friends and enemies in equal measure, both for his refusal to kill every punk who calls him out on the road, and for his dislike of the South American dictator his company are investing in this year. As the stakes get higher, Chris's wife is helping him find a way out that might both save his life and allow him to live with himself and his nightmares.

Like his hero, Morgan gets carried away by the visceral excitement of violence, by the joy of driving to the kill, by the power-kick of manipulating a third-world dictator or revolutionary leader for profit and career advancement. We are never allowed to forget that this mercenary business practice and lifestyle free of consequences are both evil and directly responsible for untold suffering. But we see why Chris finds it irresistible, and may even find ourselves hoping despite ourselves that he does not give it all up and sell out to the United Nations ombudsmen and his bleeding-heart father-in-law's liberal morality.

The setting is a clever, near-future Speculative Fiction England of the late mid twenty-first century, characterised not by unrecognisable technology but by the exaggeration of some of the more reprehensible traits of the media, politics, finance and social manipulation seen already in our time. The geography is suburban London, with literal razor-wire barricades marking the lines that are now mainly marked by house prices and council tax bands. Pop culture and modern history references contain just enough pre-2004 material to remind us that this is our future, but enough new names and events to make it clear that fifty or more years have passed and the world has its own lived past now. Flights to the USA land at Reagan Airport; economics students who can afford the fees study at the Thatcher Institute; the hitmen with the broadest global coverage work out of Langley.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, but be warned: if you are a globalising marketeer or a neocon sympathiser, you might find it less than indulgent.

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