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Woken Furies
Richard Morgan
Victor Gollancz, 436 pages

Woken Furies
Richard 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 Interview: Richard Morgan
SF Site Review: Market Forces
SF Site Review: Broken Angels
SF Site Review: Altered Carbon
SF Site Review: Altered Carbon

Past Feature Reviews
A review by David Soyka

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A loner living by his own brand of cynical morality who nonetheless does the noble thing in the end, cast in a shadowy world where no one is who he seems. Or who she seems. Though the she (and ofttimes a series of she) is very good in bed, albeit an act shrouded in desperation, with no illusions of happily ever after.

In the end, we're all doomed to our respective fates. The only real question is how well we manage to cope.

That basically describes the noir thriller that Humphrey Bogart made into a career. Whatever particular twists it may take, from the ridiculous (Eric Garcia's Rex series about PI Vincent Rubio, a human-costumed dinosaur) to the sublime (Cormac McCarthy's latest, No Country for Old Men), it's the same broken down, wrong side of the tracks, fog-enshrouded dysfunction that sucks us in. Every time.

The plot matters less than the characterization of the anti-hero taking on the powers-that-be according to his own rules of engagement, the small victories won even as corruption metastasizes. That's why we keep reading this stuff, why we never tire of hearing Rick tell Ilsa that the fate of two people doesn't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world, or that the woman you may or may not love is going to take the fall because when your partner gets killed, even if you didn't particularly like the guy, he's your partner and you've got to do something about it.

You stick your neck out for nobody? Yeah, right.

In the latest variation of this theme, meet Takeshi Kovacs. Maybe you've already met him, in Altered Carbon or Broken Angels, the two previous novels in the series by Richard Morgan. In Woken Furies, the latest installment, in another cliché of the genre, he's back once again at odds with the forces of avarice, even as he commits the sins of the very evil he opposes.

Morgan's spin on this shtick is to crossbreed Philip Marlowe with Philip K. Dick. In a far-future, humankind colonizes the galaxy following the aeons-old trail of long-extinct Martians who have left behind puzzling artifacts and technology that in odd ways restricts human action. On Kovacs's home plant, Harlan's World (an allusion to Ellison, perhaps?), for example, still-functioning Martian satellites automatically destroy any aircraft that rises above a certain altitude. The reason for this isn't clear, anymore than exactly why a star-faring humanity lacks the firepower to simply blast the alien objects out of orbit. Oh, right (sound of hand slapping forehead), because if they did the author would have had to rewrite a scene in the denouement in which the bad guys get theirs as a result of this peculiar circumstance.

But the technology here is less for science fictional purposes than metaphorical. Though a seemingly minor, if not irrelevant, plot detail, the Martians serve as a mythological image of the "lost gods" that humanity strives to understand incompletely at best in much the same way it has always pondered the existence -- or non-existence -- of God. And despite the inability to truly know, nonetheless acts as if it possesses metaphysical certitude in wreaking havoc on people lacking the same convictions.

Despite their superior technology, the Martians are extinct, perhaps foreshadowing humankind's ultimate destiny, even while it has achieved serial immortality -- a digital "cortical stack" recording of an individual's consciousness can be retrieved upon the body's demise and "re-sleeved" into another body. Which perhaps further encourages humanity propensity for violence and mayhem in a reality where someone can easily rise from the dead.

Of course, the main reason for the gimmick is it also allows the former elite military officer Kovacs to be "re-sleeved" to face different situations with different casts of characters in different novels. In Woken Furies, in particular, it enables the theme, though not fully realized, of what would we do if we could meet our younger selves. Due to the illegal re-sleeving of a copy of an earlier Kovacs stack, our hero gets to do just that. The plot to some extent concerns how the elder Kovacs tries to outthink his younger self.

There still remains the possibility of the "real death" if the cortical stack itself is destroyed and no other copies exist. The stack could also be placed in a non-human body in retribution for some offense. In the first case, a band of revolutionaries, in which Kovacs has become a reluctant and somewhat dubious participant, is more than willing to take the risk for the greater glory of their cause. In the latter instance, Kovacs takes it upon himself to avenge religious zealots whose dogmatism has destroyed a loved one.

If this kind of theological speculation about bad karma puts you off, don't be. It is a mild diversion. The focus here is on the hard-boiled action and the tough guy who out-toughs his adversaries. As variations on the theme go, this is a pretty good one, despite an anti-climatic ending that is less revelatory than it is standard shoot-'em-up. Also, there is strand about a Kovacs romantic interest who may be manipulating him that is left unraveled. Perhaps for the next time.

But, plot or logic or even philosophical speculation really isn't the point here. (The Big Sleep never made much sense, but nobody much cares about that, either.) What matters is how the anti-hero manages to deal with both his own internal demons as well as the ones in the real world. We suffer with him, we root for him against all the odds, but in the end we know, as well as he, that the love of his life had to get in that airplane, or get sent to that prison cell, because, well, that's just the way life works. And the curse of the re-sleeved stack is that it will happen over and over again.

Which means we can all look forward to the next version of Kovacs who looks different, but acts the same, and no matter how world-weary, still fights the good fight.

Here's lookin' at that, kid.

Copyright © 2005 David Soyka

David Soyka is a former journalist and college teacher who writes the occasional short story and freelance article. He makes a living writing corporate marketing communications, which is a kind of fiction without the art.


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