Gollancz, 2005, 436 pages, C$24.95 tpb, ISBN 0-575-07326-8
I’d been waiting a while for Richard Morgan’s follow-up to Broken Angels in the “Takeshi Kovacs” SF/thriller series. After the unsubtle but strangely compelling singleton Market Forces, where would Morgan take his tough-guy hero?
Back home, of course. As Woken Furies open, Kovacs is back on his native Harlan’s World, trying to stay alive as he pursues his own little vendetta. Scarcely anything is left of the Envoy he once was, or the widely-respected operative he then became: Reduced to taking up arms with a mercenary unit, Kovacs looks as if he has nowhere lower to go. But just wait, for famous revolutionary Quellcrist Falconer just may be back from the dead… and few on Harlan’s World are ready for another uprising.
An amusing feature of the Kovacs series so far has been seeing how Morgan buried hints about his upcoming books in the previous ones. Altered Carbon mentioned Martians, which were covered in Broken Angels, which spent some time discussing Quellist philosophy, which is studied in Woken Furies. Also worth mentioning is how the flavor of each entry differs slightly: the first was a hardboiled mystery; the second was closer to military science-fiction; the third is more akin to a straight-up thriller.
Unfortunately, those are just about the most interesting things in the book. After three vivid novels, Morgan here displays a creative stall: Kovacs is too familiar to be interesting, his universe now seems too well-worn to be surprising and the quality of the novel’s individual scenes never reaches the level of his first three books. Wasted elements abound, perhaps showing a lack of interest in pursuing the story to its logical end.
There is a tricky equilibrium between being “intimate” and being “dull”. While no one will deny that this is Takeshi Kovacs’ most personal story so far, it’s a matter of preference to say that Woken Furies is the series’ most boring entry so far. Kovacs may be more involved in this story than in any of the previous ones, but it’s difficult to care. Indeed, it seems as if we learn even less about him than in either of the previous two books. His motivations become increasingly implausible as he is drawn into another uprising. The sad truth may be that there isn’t much left to learn about Kovacs.
But worse is the dawning realization that the same may be true about his universe. The joyously fresh “sleeving” tricks used to such great effect in the the previous Kovacs book here seem ordinary and expected. While Altered Carbon and Broken Angels each had a handful of dynamite set-pieces, Woken Furies is far less distinctive, fading in memory almost as soon as it’s completed. There is as much sex and violence here than elsewhere in Morgan’s oeuvre, but even it seems forced and featureless.
This lack of distinction further contributes to the sense of aimlessness while reading the book. At a dense 436 pages, Woken Furies simply doesn’t deserve to be that long. It takes forever for the ghost of Quellcrist Falconer to emerge from the morass, and when it does, the novel scarcely focuses on that aspect. It says much about the book that I’ve managed to come this far in the review without mentioning the sub-plot in which Kovacs is being hunted down by a younger version of himself. Unfortunately, the encounters between the two don’t seem all that worth a mention. Oh well.
But be careful: don’t jump ahead of me and presume that this is a bad novel. For all of my ambivalence regarding its length and impact, Woken Furies is still better than the majority of the books I’ll read this year. There’s plenty of political material, for instance, with assorted fundamentalist-bashing. (Or, in Kovacs’ case, rather more than just a bashing). There are musings on the nature of revolutions and popular movements. There’s action, sex and violence, as expected as they may seem from a Morgan novel. There’s an interesting development to the revolutionary ideal (when people essentially live forever, it become reasonable to say “if all else fails, enjoy life and wait until the time is right”). If that had been a first novel by an unknown author, chances are that I would have flagged the author as someone to watch.
But this is Richard Morgan we’re talking about. One of the brightest young firebrands of British SF. Despite the body count and the established series, Woken Furies is dull, and that activates a warning signal regarding Morgan’s next few novels. I really do hope that Black Man is a step in the right direction; at the very least, it appears to be disconnected to the Kovacs universe, and at this point, that can only be a good thing.