Woken Furies, Richard Morgan
Ballentine Del Ray, 2007
Takeshi Kovacs spends most of Woken Furies, the third book in the Kovacs series, in a bad mood. When I’m in a bad mood, I’m more snappish and sarcastic than usual. Kovacs is an ex-Envoy, a carefully selected, highly trained, rigidly conditioned covert operative and assassin for the powerful, draconian Protectorate, so when he’s in a bad mood, he kills people.
Of course, many of them are not really dead, or rather, Really Dead, because people in Richard Morgan’s future universe have cortical stacks, shiny storage devices attached to their cervical vertebrae, holding consciousness. As long as your cortical stack is undamaged, your consciousness can just be downloaded into a new physical body, called a “sleeve.” While you’re waiting for a sleeve your consciousness can be dormant, or it might be active, inserted into a virtual environment. This could be a paradise or a torture chamber, depending upon who got hold of your stack.
I’m slightly disadvantaged by not having read Altered Carbon, the first book in the series, but only slightly. Each book stands alone, with one or two overarching storylines, mostly focused on a 300-years-Dead revolutionary named Quellcrist Falconer, and the peculiar Martian satellites that orbit Harlan’s World, the planet Kovacs was born on. The discovery a few hundred years before of Martian artifacts, the decoding of their technology and their astro-charts propelled humanity off Earth and into space, on the trail of already terraformed—or marsaformed—planets. However, due to all the known time problems with intergalactic travel, humans travelling these distances needed to be suspended. Presumably, this pushed the cloning and the development of the magical soul-amulets, oops, sorry, cortical storage devices. There’s an implication that the cortical stacks also interact with the nanomachines that are injected into newborns to keep the current “sleeve” running at optimum efficiency. It isn’t clear where all the sleeves come from, whose genetic material is being harvested for the sleeves, or even how people who decide they want to have a child are choosing to do that now that consciousness and identity have been irrevocably sundered from DNA. Clearly there is still a biological imperative to procreate, since evolution doesn’t move that quickly; but which sleeve are you going to do it with? And what does this do to inheritance laws, since there is no way to use DNA tracking to verify identity once a person has shifted bodies? There’s not much discussion about how this triumph of Calvinistic mind-body split affected people psychologically or spiritually. Religion, in Woken Furies, is a straw man built up to be torched by Kovacs’s anger, not a real force with any impact on society.
Of course I’m going down the wrong path here. The Kovacs books aren’t about societal questions or spiritual questions. They really aren’t for people like me. The target demographic for these books, I’m guessing, is male, eighteen to twenty-nine, ingests large amounts of caffeine and plays Worlds of Warcraft until 3:00 am.
For that audience, this video-game universe with its endless supply of spare lives should work well. Morgan has done a great job of establishing the legacy of the Martian technology, although it helped that I had read Broken Angels first. The Martian machines that orbit Harlan’s World, where Kovacs has returned, are intriguing and deadly, since they vaporize any airborne craft that gets more than a certain distance above sea level. There is only one place on the planet where shuttles to the star ships can land and take off, presumably because the satellites allow it. No one knows why the orbitals do this; sometimes, arbitrarily, the orbitals shoot at other things. Nobody controls the orbitals; nobody knows how.
Kovacs is pursuing a scheme of personal vengeance when he connects with a group of DeComs, soldiers for hire who decommission smart weapons left on the planet’s war-ravaged lost continent. He’s also dodging the local yakuza. Soon he realizes that one of the DeComs appears to be channeling the consciousness of the long-dead revolutionary. Then he finds out that the yakuza clan has sleeved a backup of himself, to hunt him down.
The book has plenty of suspense and Morgan’s action sequences are good. In a strangely schizoid construction, the feminine principle is strongly represented while most of the individual women characters are comrades-in-arms and sex-buddies. It’s interesting to see how he pulled that off. The action moves from the lost continent to the planetary capital to a surfing community that could have been lifted intact from Oahu’s North Shore.
Other reviewers mentioned the language in the book. By this they mean the liberal use of the f-word. Morgan knows very well what he is doing with his words. He uses the f-word the way everyone under forty does now, for emphasis and pacing—and he also uses it correctly to mean copulation. Since the dialogue is one of the strong points of the book, and characters use many colorful phrases and descriptions, I can’t tell if Morgan is using rough language out of habit, in an attempt to capture a sense of camaraderie, or whether he is trying to show us something about the deadening of sensibility in his world. There’s not enough of the world available to let me make that decision.
Kovacs, the pinnacle of human engineering and conditioning, is a bit slow sometimes. I found myself yelling at the book, “It’s a setup! A setup!” more than once, like a viewer of a bad horror movie. Even though he’s not the sharpest tool in the shed, he does get to fulfill a Hot-for-Teacher fantasy and work out his daddy issues, all the while saving Harlan’s World, or at least getting ready to really make things unpleasant for the ruling class there. The book is billed as action adventure, not social commentary. It has action and adventure. It has mythical beings who hurl lightning from the skies. How can you not love that? As an example of video-game science fiction, it satisfies.