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Woken Furies

by Richard Morgan

(Gollancz. Hardback, £9.99, 436 pages, published 17 March 2005. Paperback, £6.99, 576 pages, published 5 September, 2005.)

Review by Jakob Schmidt

cover scanTakeshi Kovacs, former agent of the feared 'Envoy Corps', has come home to Harlan's World, where a few archipelagos spotting the endless ocean are the only usable land, and where the sky is guarded by the ancient, alien Orbitals who punish all but the most cautious air traffic with a lethal lance of 'Angel Fire'. Naturally, Kovacs hasn't come for a family visit; instead, he's carrying out a private little slaughtering crusade against the religious fundamentalists gaining ground on Harlan's World. Fleeing from one of his murder sites, he runs into the cyborg-hacker Sylvie Oshima, who offers him an ideal disguise: together with her workmates, he accompanies her at a cleaning-up job on the continent of New Hokkaido, which is infested with ancient, unchecked war-machines. Tailing him, there's a second Takeshi Kovacs -- a younger version of his old self, downloaded into a new body from an illegal memory store. Soon, Takeshi 1 finds out that his double is less interested in him than in Sylvie -- for she seems to be the key figure in the resurrection of an old revolutionary movement, and the ruling Harlan family naturally isn't too keen on letting her live. Kovacs is drawn between his different pasts as Envoy and as a sympathiser of the Quellist revolutionary movement. Stuck between uncertain allies and enemies, Kovacs decides to go by his old motto: 'Make it personal...'

Each new Takeshi-Kovacs-novel seems to confront me with the same dilemma: not often I close a finished book with the same feeling of exhausted satisfaction. And not often there's so much to complain about at the same time.

To start with the good news: this time, Morgan not only delivers what he proved extremely efficient on in his previous novels, which is: Hollywood-style action, laconic one-liners, heaps of manslaughter and a fast-paced, darting-around plot; he also shows new qualities and such that have been only vaguely discernible until now. That's especially true in regards to his characters: Woken Furies presents Morgan's most vivid and believable ensemble yet. And, for the first time in the course of three novels, I really felt to be in the shoes of the cold-blooded, driven killer Takeshi Kovacs, whose personal ethics finally get a little clearer in this book. We also learn more about the already much-quoted revolutionary theory of Quellism, and get a truly fantastic look at Kovacs's homeworld. Given all that, the book is -- at the very least -- a great read for faithful Kovacs-fans that even provides the series with something of a preliminary conclusion. As a person, Kovacs grows in this novel, and the fact that he is still able to do so should be a big relief to any reader with at least slightly humanistic views.

On the other hand, I feel constantly let down by Morgan when it comes to keeping the promises of his more radical SF-concepts. The revolutionary ideology of Quellism, for one thing, seems pretty flat, old-fashioned and not the slightest bit radical at a theoretical level, and with the concept of sleeving, of switching one's body, Morgan keeps manoeuvring himself into tricky spots. One of the central plot points of the novel (involving a murder plot against the Harlan family) is totally undermined by this, and it's hard to believe that Morgan himself overlooked the hole in his story -- the attempts at explaining it away seem pretty thin. Furthermore, Morgan fails to impart the fundamental changes in human existence implied by the practice of sleeving. His stories are compelling and intelligent, but they're also always stories about the same old human beings -- whose existence doesn't seem too believable against the technological backdrop Morgan describes. To do his concepts justice, Morgan would have to utilise a stylistic radicalism similar to Delany or Clute -- something that would make his books much harder to digest, but also much more challenging.

That's not to say that Woken Furies is dull or has nothing to say. Morgan tackles the question of personal responsibility in repressive social situations on multiple levels and thankfully avoids the higher ground of moralism while doing so, and for that alone he certainly deserves the critical praise he gets. But his more extravagant SF-concepts sometimes only seem to get in his way.

For the experienced Morgan-reader, the book is a must-read that delivers the most interesting novel of the series yet. Newcomers may experience some trouble and should probably read at least Altered Carbon before skipping to Woken Furies.

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