Richard Morgan: Altered Carbon, Broken Angels, Woken Furies

As I’ve watched the almost unheard of Altered Carbon rocket up into the top echelons of Science Fiction novels (by rating), I wondered if that would have occurred at all, if Netflix hadn’t brought the story to the screen.

The above three books, written by Mr Morgan between 2002 and 2005, are all genuine, top draw SF novels. They all feature the beleaguered Takeshi Kovacs, sleeving onto different worlds and trying to keep his stack intact.

When I read these books, soon after publication, I was amazed at Mr Morgan’s ability to create thick, exotic future ‘civilisations, credibly flawed characters, and believable tech – mostly attached to genetically altered humans’ heads and bodies. The writing is extremely sharp. If there was a genre for this trio, I suppose it would be hard SF thriller. But unlike many SF books, the stories are primarily character driven. Kovacs manages to keep the same outlook – via the first person narrative – while being needlecast from one dangerous planet into an even worse predicament. He even manages to cadge together a crew of sorts, to share in his adventures and deaths.

In my opinion, each book is better than the one before. Mr Morgan does not shy away from incredible violence, extremely destructive weapons, or future-plus wire-ups for his, at times, motley characters. There does exist the genre of military SF, but these books do not fit there. His portrayal of short, brutal battles, or long drawn out retreats while being shelled toward oblivion, are unique.

The Netflix Altered Carbon production didn’t really fit with my memories of the book, though I believe it would be almost impossible to truly translate the story onto the screen.

I recommend this trio of books – they gave me a big thrill reading them. If you’re a true SF, you won’t be disappointed. Trust me.

Chasm City by Alastair Reynolds

Chasm City, a relatively hard SF novel, was written in 2001. It sits second in a quartet of novels, but is really a standalone story.

The first book, Revelation Space, (2000), sets the scene of much of the goings on in Chasm City on the planet Yellowstone – that book was followed by Redemption Ark, which picked up the thread from the storyline of Revelation Space, and then Absolution Gap completed that series.

For me, Chasm City allowed Mr Reynolds to weave a multi levelled SF masterpiece around the planet Yellowstone – where much of drama in the other three books transpires. Told in the first person by Tanner Mirabel, who suffers through disastrous accident right off the bat. He wakens on a planet in medechine hospice, with little memory of who he is, or what he’d done in the past. He’s cared for and nursed back to some semblance of health. To patch back together these pieces of his past life, Mirabel journeys to Chasm City.

The city, a once grand and glorious metropolis, has been infected by the Melding Plague, causing strange malfusions in the autonomous repairs systems of the up to a mile high buildings. The glories of the past (think 1890’s but in the far future) are now misshapen and perverse. The nobles live high above the slime and debris on the ground, never having to commune with those unlucky enough to eke out survival there.

Chasm City was once orbited by the Glitter Band, a marvel for the ages. But now, it’s the Rust Belt, gone the way of the plague. We follow Mirabel through the City’s exotic and the unholy population as he finds clues to recall his past. I can’t say too much more, but: Mirabel must deal with a virus – infected by the Sky Haussman cult, the former leader of his homeworld – loved by some, hated for his brutality by others; the virus causes him flashbacks into Sky Haussmann’s life; and much more in this tightly written novel.

I found this a very satisfying SF book after wandering in the dark of some uninspiring stuff. Which goes to show: if you, the reader want to find good SF, it’s out there.

PS: I have lost count of the number of copies of Revelation Space books I have unearthed in secondhand book shops, then lent or posted to interested people.