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Market Forces
Richard Morgan
Gollancz, 385 pages

Market Forces
Richard K. Morgan
Richard Morgan was an English language teacher at Strathclyde University. Thanks to the advance for film rights to Altered Carbon, he is now a full-time author living in Glasgow.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Broken Angels
SF Site Review: Altered Carbon
SF Site Review: Altered Carbon

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Greg L. Johnson

As society splits further into the haves and the have nots, government becomes less and less meaningful in peoples lives. Globalisation allows international corporations to become powers unto themselves, their only ethics that of the bottom line. Add in an economic depression which takes social services away from the middle and lower classes but preserves the status of corporate executives. Getting promoted and landing the next big deal literally become matters of life and death. With only the executives allowed to own cars and drive, highway duelling becomes formalized and executives are admonished to come in "with blood on their tires, or not at all."

This is the world in which Chris Faulkner finds himself a privileged member. Newly head-hunted into a position with Shorn Investments' Conflict Investment division, Chris quickly finds it necessary to prove himself to his new bosses and clients. Market Forces gives us the unrelentingly violent tale of a man who would probably be a fairly decent human being, if his own past, and the world he lived in would only allow it.

Market Forces is being promoted as a thriller, a look into the edge of near-future corporate politics. The author himself cites Mad Max and Rollerball as influences, and for the mass audience that will relate to Market Forces through those films the comparison makes sense. But science fiction readers will see plenty of other precedents, including Frederik Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth, Harlan Ellison, Roger Zelazny, John Brunner, and the darker side of cyberpunk. For quite some time now, writers of mass-market thrillers have been borrowing ideas from science fiction and re-casting them as high-tech adventures. Richard Morgan isn't the first SF writer to attempt to break into that market, but Market Forces' combination of street-level grit and corporate immorality may just make him the most successful.

The book has one serious flaw. The social and economic conditions that Morgan envisions are a result of picking several trends and following them all to their worst-case conclusions. The technique works in that it allows the reader to step inside a world that is demonstrably insane; its inhabitants have lost the ability to discern right from wrong. The few characters who do question the status quo are presented as either ineffectual idealists, arrogant meddlers, or simply disappear by the end of the novel. The playing field is so tilted that Morgan is required to continually increase the levels of tension and violence in order to keep the reader from stopping and seeing the holes in the character's thinking.

But if you can stick along for the ride, Market Forces is an exhilarating and maddening look at a nightmare future that's just plausible enough to haunt anyone who contemplates how close we may already be to living there.

Copyright © 2004 by Greg L. Johnson

Though it's a disturbing scene, reviewer Greg L. Johnson has to acknowledge the sheer efficiency of solving a contract dispute by simply clubbing one of the clients to death. His reviews also appear in the The New York Review of Science Fiction.

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