domingo, janeiro 20, 2008

Mythical Agents of Destiny: "Altered Carbon" by Richard K. Morgan




If they want you, sooner or later they’ll scoop you up off the globe, like specks of interesting dust off a Martian artefact. Cross the gulf between the stars, and they’ll come after you. Go into centuries of storage, and they’ll be there waiting for you, clone-new, when you re-sleeve. They are what we once dreamed of as gods, mythical agents of destiny, as inescapable as Death, that poor old peasant labourer, bent over his scythe, no longer is. Poor Death, no match for the mighty altered carbon technologies of data storage and retrieval arrayed against him. Once we lived in terror of his arrival. Now we flirt outrageously with his sombre dignity, and beings like these won’t even let him in the tradesman’s entrance.


In “Altered Carbon” by Richard K. Morgan


Cyberpunk, a historic sub-genre that was out of date by the time most people had started using Windows, cool! That said, Gibson was better than ever with the near future Blue Ant trilogy, and Stephenson is off doing whatever caught his attention, before hopefully returning with some more Shaftoes and Waterhice, I mean houses. That said, Gibson's The Peripheral offered some fascinating directions, but were too interesting for that hoary old sub-genre title. I've always thought of the Altered Carbon books as SF pulp really and the TV version just confirms it for me. When discussing Gibson and PKD I view their work as literature because they're tackling big issues and are using sci-fi as the frame. Altered Carbon doesn't really have any big issues and is more concerned with telling a rollicking adventure. Shame really. I'm a bit more stocked for Duncan Jones' 'Mute' which I think may well be more in-tune with William Gibson's motifs.

One example of something interesting here is how the moral economics of violence changes when bodies can be considered disposable and replaceable. In Kovac's world bodies are only truly disposable for a hyper wealthy elite, but still murder effectively becomes a property crime and torture can not involve irreversible physical damage for instance. The flip side of this is that the reader has a different awareness of what its like to live in an irreplaceable body; it reinforces disgust at physical violence. So on the level of ideas this is not boring at all, and while Morgan isn't the greatest stylist he is at worst competent and at best rather good at keeping things rattling along. Of course you can assert that authors X and Y kind of did the same thing, but within the limits of genre fiction it is an interesting area to explore and there's no harm in exploring it.

(Bought in 2008)


Having said that, if I’m bored by something, that doesn't make it boring by definition. And my personal reaction is not in itself interesting or informative. It's just one more opinion, and we don't seem to be running short on opinions. There's one factor that it's really hard to ignore. Kovacs is supposed to be the ultimate super-soldier, able to needlecast halfway across the universe and immediately blend in to any situation using his "total absorb" skills. A near-perfect chameleon, so the books have us believe. So why the hell does he blunder around like a total meathead, getting into random scraps with strangers and pissing everyone off like a moody teenager ?

Rickard K. Morgan's writing - but much of what he's written (with Kovacs anyway) is based on concepts that have been around for quite a while. He definitely puts a nice spin on them - but I really don't think that he matches William Gibson for innovation or exploration of new concepts. I mean we're talking about the man who coined the phrase 'cyberspace' - in 1979! (I think - too sleepy to go start searching...so am sorry if that year is wrong) However, I haven't read anything by Mr Morgan except for his Kovacs novels, so I am open to being proven wrong. I'll look up some of the titles mentioned among the comments on this review. But I believe (based on what I have read of Morgan's) that there are a number of writers who have been turning out similar stuff that is equally as well-crafted, if not better in some ways. (Neal Asher is the first to spring to mind...but there are a number of others, both contemporary and also not so).