For those of you unfamiliar with this series, I’m going through the various bookcases in my flat, micro-reviewing the contents. Partly as an excuse to revisit books that I’ve read a hundred times before, partly to justify why I’m keeping them as well. Hopefully, this will inspire some of you to do the same. Links to previous instalments are at the end of this article. This time, we move on to my second book case.
In part one, we covered We by Yevgeny Zamyatin, Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep by Philip K Dick, I Am Legend by Richard Matheson, The Steel Remains by Richard Morgan, and Armageddon’s Children, The Gypsy Morph, Running With The Demon, Knight Of The Word and Angel Fire East by Terry Brooks. Part two saw us tackle The Death Of Grass by John Christopher, Off On A Comet/Splinter by Jules Verne/Adam Roberts, Un Lun Dun by China Miéville , Star Wars: Allegiance by Timothy Zahn, and River Of Gods, Cyberabad Days and Brasyl by Ian McDonald. In part three, we covered The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein, The Collected Stories Of Vernor Vinge by Vernor Vinge, Stealing Light by Gary Gibson, The Forest Of Hands And Teeth by Carrie Ryan, the Star Trek Corps Of Engineers: Creative Couplings anthology, Second World by Eddy Shah, and Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein. Part four included Rainbows End by Vernor Vinge, Necropath, Xenopath and Cosmopath by Eric Brown, Old Man’s War, The Ghost Brigades, The Last Colony and Zoe’s Tale by John Scalzi.
In a dystopian future Manchester, Scribble is a member of the Stash Riders, who habitually get high through the use of hallucinogenic feathers, the colour of which denotes their potency. I first read this book during a module on science fiction literature in university, and it’s stayed on my shelf ever since. Powerfully and confidently written, with a careful balance of excitement, surreality, poignancy and strong characterisation, this was one of the greatest novels of the pre-millennial decade.
Predating cyberpunk by a considerable margin, Alfred Bester’s (arguably) finest work is also probably my favourite novel. The ideas and the prescience contained within are staggering, while Gully Foyle, the half-man-turned-übermensch, is easily one of the most deliciously antiheroic heroes in genre fiction. The book is essentially a sci-fi retelling of Alexandre Dumas’s The Count Of Monte Cristo, but has just as much literary significance as the French author and correspondent’s novel.
Banks’s welcome return to The Culture came with Matter, a particularly dense, yet ultimately rewarding novel released last year. The book is eloquently and imaginatively written, with Banks’s usual enthusiasm for the universe shining through, but can be impenetrable if you haven’t read previous novels in the series, particularly the extraordinary Consider Phlebas, and those that deal with older species mentoring younger ones.
Morgan’s Takeshi Kovacs series may be his best-known, but Market Forces s a decent little genre action-thriller in its own right. Set against a cutthroat world of corporate espionage in the future, an executive battles rivals on the roads while influencing geopolitical events at work. It contains Morgan’s usual predisposition toward graphic violence and profanity, while retaining much of the fibre of his oeuvre that makes him so eminently readable. Not to everyone’s taste, but fun in the right places.
The best of the Takeshi Kovacs series, Altered Carbon is a neo-noir, cyberpunk, gumshoe detective science fiction thriller. A former Special Forces operative is sent back to Earth and invested in a new body to solve the murder of a man who can simply resurrect. It’s a tightly woven, ultra-violent narrative that provides a solid kick to the face as an introduction to Morgan’s downtrodden future, where eternal live is available only to the rich.
Broken Angels is the darker-than-night midpoint of the series, seeing Kovacs shipping out with a mercenary group following the events of Altered Carbon. The discovery of an alien artefact, however, causes endless bloodshed for him and his group. Broken Angels is by far the most violent of the books, and given how bloody the others are, that says something. Indeed, it’s so much so that it sometimes nearly collapses under the weight of its gore, only just held up by the intriguing story. Kovacs seems to be more of a blank sheet here than anything else, something that’s necessary for the story but not quite as thrilling as its predecessor.
In the third and final instalment of Kovacs’s story, he finds himself back on his home planet of Harlan’s World, and in trouble with a growing religious cult, the Yakuza, and the authorities themselves, so much so that they send his greatest adversary to find him – himself. Coupled with that is a possible resurrection of a long-dead revolutionary, and Kovacs’s life is a little more interesting than he might otherwise like. After the bleak, unrelenting bloodshed of Broken Angels, Woken Furies provides a refreshing return to the Kovacs we met in Altered Carbon, but more weathered and tempered. Indeed, he retains the more militaristic vibe he gave off in the previous book while the plot leans towards the first, producing a nice portmanteau that keeps concentration fixed until the dénouement. Highly recommended.
Read the other entries in this series: