Richard Morgan, Woken Furies 2005. Gollancz. Pp. 400. US: ISBN 0345479718, $24.95; UK: ISBN 057507325X, £9.99.

Reviewed by Djibril

The priest I didn't talk to at all, because I didn't want to have to hide his body afterwards.

This remarkably good novel, from former Strathclyde University lecturer Morgan who only started publishing fiction three years ago, is the sequel to both Altered Carbon (2002) and Broken Angels (2003). The first book in the series was a cyberpunk-cum-detective novel, as hard-hitting as it was hard-boiled; the second was a free-standing story, a thriller set in a war-zone and starring archaeologists and special forces troopers, where military atrocities are committed both against the protagonists, and by them. This new title is also free-standing. We meet élite soldier, retired anti-insurgency "Envoy", jaded former revolutionary, and now tired career criminal Takeshi Kovacs for the third time, but the book does not depend on knowledge of the first two to succeed (and so nor does it info-dump background information in any quantity that would trouble a loyal reader).

The only sense in which it would be useful to have read the former books—except that they are sublimely worth reading in their own right—is that the philosophy known as Quellism will already exist as a piece of background scenery in the reader's mind. This radical, revolutionary philosophy is one of Morgan's most prodigious creations: his previous books are scattered with Machiavellian quotations from Quellcrist Falconer, a figure somewhere between Friedrich Nietzsche and Leon Trotsky (with echos of the iconic Che Guevara). A revolutionary who died attempting a world-wide uprising a couple of centuries ago, whose message is unromantic, uncompromising, and all-encompassing, and whose writings are pithy, aphoristic, and iconoclastic. (One early poetic Quellist sentiment is paraphrased in a moment of stress: "Religion. Has it occured to anybody that every human sacrament is a cheap evasion, that the whole of human history might just be some fucking excuse for the inability to provide a decent female orgasm[?]") Kovacs is not a Quellist himself, but he is in turn associated with and influenced by followers of the maverick and dangerous anti-establishment figurehead.

In this novel Morgan gives us Kovacs working on his home planet, Harlan's World, downloaded into a temporary, artificial body, in league with organised criminals, and conducting some kind of vendetta against the patriarchs of a repressive, misogynistic religion, the New Revelation. (The imagery of the bearded priests of the New Revelation are no doubt largely based upon Islamic clerics, but Morgan makes it clear that the cultural ancestors of their particular brand of hateful, ideological repression are as much Christian as Muslim.) Harlan's World is an ocean planet, only populated on a series of island chains and archipelagos, whose population—including the corrupt, ruling Harlan clan—are constrained to the surface by the ancient orbital platforms, satellites abandonned by a lost alien race hundred of thousands of years ago, which unerringly incinerate anything technological that tries to fly above 400 metres. On the run from the Yakuza, Kovacs lies low with a band of mercenaries hired to decommission some dangerous, AI military hardware that has been running rampant for a hundred years or more. As well as automated robotic weaponry, the uncleared zones are running with viruses and self-evolving technologies. This dangerous but anonymous respite is interrupted by two developments: one which will interest the Quellists quietly waiting for the next revolution, and one which is much more crucial to Kovacs himself. Somebody—and it can only be someone with the resources of the Harlan clan themselves—has aquired an illegal copy of his younger self and downloaded it into a new military-issue body. For reasons that are not yet clear, he and his new friends find themselves being tracked down by the ruthless, Envoy-trained Takeshi Kovacs.

The story begins racily, with action and intrigue storming onto the page from all directions, but it takes a while before there is any clear direction to the plot, and for the first hundred pages or so the reader may wonder where all this is going, if anywhere. Once the strands start to come together, however, it is soon clear where all the clues were leading, what all the loose ends were for, and that all that incidental detail which so beautifully fleshed out the very real, very dark world Kovacs lives in—was anything but incidental. There is not a gram of fat on this lean, hungry, grizzly brute of a novel.

The quote with which I opened this review was one of my favourite lines in the whole book, and a line that can be enjoyed equally both within and without its context (p. 181). Nietzsche would have loved it.

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