Broken Angels

What do you do when you crave a little sci-fi noir, but you've read up all the Philip K. Dick that's available? Well, if you're me, you look at Richard K. Morgan, note that, like Dick, he uses his middle initial in his name, and go, "Huh...might as well give it a shot."

Okay. My reasons for checking out Morgan might not be that dumb, but it did have a lot to do with the comments and praise that all centered around comparisons to Dick's visual aesthetic in his novels and short stories, which is kind of weird when you consider that the visual tableau for a written work is largely up to the reader's imagination (coupled, of course, with the author's ability to describe with words the world he/she is creating). In the case of Broken Angels, the second in a series featuring former Envoy/private eye Takeshi Kovacs, the feel is much more akin to Ridley Scott's vastly different conception of Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (reviewed here, incidentally), then it does to anything actually written in the novel. Which actually is fine, since that hard boiled mix of Raymond Chandler and BLADE RUNNER was exactly what I was looking for.

Broken Angels takes place in a future where the concept of "re-sleeving" your consciousness means that lifetimes stretch on for centuries, and bodies can be manufactured to accommodate any function. Kovacs has been around a long time - as an Envoy he was part of a particularly brutal special military squad that left him mentally scarred and suspicious - in other words perfect for his current role as vagabond detective/soldier for hire. When the book opens he's assigned to a military force that's battling a revolutionary across a planet - leading fresh recruits to their death and re-sleeving with the cold callousness that's reserved for someone who's experienced death enough times that it's really starting to wear him down. When Kovacs is approached to go on a expedition to uncover an alien artifact that may have huge implications for future warfare, he can't pass it up, especially as it sets him up with the chance to get out of the killing business for good.

Of course everything goes to Hell in a hand basket, as Kovacs gets shot at, has virtual sex, gets shot at some more, and learns that abandoned alien artifacts only look abandoned. Morgan writes everything with a keen detail to what might actually occur to people who live lives over and over again, and some of the descriptions of the war and how it affects the inhabitants show a fine eye for reporting and journalism. He voices the story through Kovac's point of view and wraps up the events in a murder mystery that of course comes together in the end, complete with a stylized monologue about how he figures it all out. It's also nice to see a hero/protagonist cast of characters that's culturally diverse - in the first novel Altered Carbon Kovacs is mostly in his natural sleeve - half Asian half Polish, and here he wears a dark Caribbean sleeve. The team he works with is suitably diverse, and one of Morgan's strengths is he doesn't call too much attention to his diversity, but doesn't allow the reader to lapse into thinking everyone in the novel looks the same.

If you're looking for a fun science fiction novel that takes pleasure in wrapping itself up in the world it creates, and like a little Philip Marlowe tossed in, you can do a lot worse than checking our Richard K. Morgan and his Takeshi Kovacs novels. Although you can get by fine reading them out of order, it might be best to start with Altered Carbon first. However, I'll note that I liked Broken Angels better, so take that for what it's worth.