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Woken Furies by Richard K. Morgan (Review)

February 4, 2007

Woken FuriesRichard Morgan’s Altered Carbon introduced us to the bleak future of Takeshi Kovacs, where humanity is stretched thin across a number of partially terraformed colony worlds, most of them run by a small handful of powerful elite, and ruled by the iron fist of the UN, the Envoys — a group of elite commandos trained to be emotionless and deadly killers.

Humanity has hit the stars by decoding the barest bit of advanced technology from the Martian outpost of an extinct (or at least missing) alien race, creating a culture where everyone has a “cortical stack” in their spine that records their memory and personality, and can be used to “re-sleeve” them in a new body in the event of their death. Well, those who can afford it. This technology allows the rich to be virtually immortal,keeps the working class fighting to afford an insurance policy that will cover it, and makes sure that the poor get a single brutal lifetime — or “prison” sentences where they are just stored as data while somebody new gets their body.

The same technology has allowed the UN to colonize the stars, with stored personalities and germ cells aboard robot ships that travel the slow sub-light distances to planets identified in the alien ruins. Once a colony is established, the rich can have their personalities squirted across to new designer clones, and the Envoys can be deployed into warfare optimum bodies.

In this world Takeshi Kovacs is a man stranded out on the sparse edge of his own history — grown up as a thug on a backwater colony in the wake of a charismatic revolutionary, trained, brutally used and ultimately betrayed by the Envoy Corps, screwed over again and again as a mercenary and a criminal — the only occupation available for an ex-Envoy, with his past (gapped by years of transport, storage, and the occasional imprisonment) stretching behind him over hundreds of years and dozens of bodies.

Kovacs is a deadly killer, trained by the Envoys to be the quintessential assassin, strategist, tactician, and commander. He also has grown way too much of a conscience for his own good, and is a surprisingly easy-to-like antihero.

In Altered Carbon (2003) we saw Kovacs dug out of storage and beamed to Earth, to act as a private detective for a wealthy oligarch out to solve the mystery of his own murder, which the (other) powers that be are totally disinterested in seeing solved.

Broken Angels (2004) introduced us to a Takeshi Kovacs a few years older and wiser, stuck in the middle of a revolution on a colony world where he has decided that he’s on the wrong side, and far more interested in helping upset the balance of power and find an escape route off-world by securing a critical new discovery of alien technology.

In Woken Furies (2005), Kovacs has come full circle, back to his native Harlan’s World, in a situation that brings him back together with some of his earliest friends and mentors in the Envoys, and what might even be Quellcrist Falconer herself — the founder of Quellism, the only revolutionary doctrine that has ever come close to upsetting the balance of power across the worlds.

As usual, regardless of what situation Kovacs gets in, his biggest battles are still with himself; this time, in more ways than one.

All in all, this is yet another great installment in the Kovacs saga, yet vastly different in direction and scope than the previous books. If you’re looking for a repaved Altered Carbon or Broken Angels, you’ll be disappointed, but if you’re fascinated with Kovacs as a character, has past and the world he inhabits, I suspect you’ll be quite pleased with Woken Furies.

Of course, if you haven’t read any of them, here’s the opportunity for treat — three quite different stories that each work well, and continue to flesh out a fascinating world and character.

Woken Furies by Richard K. Morgan (2005)

Broken Angels by Richard K. Morgan (2004)

Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan (2003)

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