by Richard Morgan, 436 pages of action adventure science fiction, with strong dystopian and hard science fiction elements. The third work in the Kovacs trilogy.
A fine story on multiple levels. As always with Morgan it's very brutal, showing in part a mercenary's private war on an abusive religion and all the sickening violence and rage that goes with that. There are a few stances of the character I was deeply uncomfortable with, and definitely points of violence and sex where it became quite brutal. Still, in the end Morgan is talented and subtle enough to make an effective vision of the future, a saga of resistance to various right-wing forces even while the narrative interrogates the corroding impact of this force on an individual and society. It also benefits from some effective if disheartening projections of technological trends, and a potent exploration of class.
It also, through bringing closure, explores more about the heart of its main character. We’ve followed Kovacs for two books now and gotten a fairly strong sense of his intentions, capabilities and limits, but his past has been vaguely defined. In this volume we’re shown in detail the pivotal moments of his early life that lead him in the particular direction of disillusionment and violence. At the same time, through a technological marvel treated as routine by the characters, Kovacs faces a younger version of himself as an antagonist, brought back by hostile corporate forces. Given the risks of cliche or an overly introspective turn inherent to this setup, it’s surprising how well it works, the plot twist that launches much of the novel’s conflict feeling natural and effective to the story rather than contrived to it.
Where the political tone of the book is perhaps most unique is in the force it brings in against religion. There are some speeches here, that are probably meant to be largely the author’s, with some pretty strong things to say about oranized religion and its impact on women. I could have done without such moments, to be honest, and the larger arc of Kovacs at war with a specific religion. They make sense in a dramatic mode and with Kocacs’ character, but feel somewhat gratuitous. What plays better than the forceful denunciation of religon as a Very Bad Thing is the aspects of the setting that show dysfunctional faith emerging as linked to and in part an explicit reaction against dysfunctional economic structures. It is of course a formula that’s common to the real world, but one that doesn’t seem to show up in science fiction as well or as plausibily as it could.
I liked this book a fair bit better than Steel Remains, perhaps because it was the conclusion of a universe rather than the opening of one--it brought a lot more final pathos and connected endings, and made the specific action-objective of this narrative more central. It's also surprising and dramatically effective that Morgan concludes this story with giving the characters some real hope that things might end better for them. For all the griminess and brutality, that's a pleasing resolution.
Better than: Market Forces by Richard Morgan
Worse than: House of Suns by Alastair Reynolds