Woken Furies

Morgan, Richard K - Woken FuriesWoken Furies

by Richard K. Morgan

Back on his home planet Harlan’s World, Takeshi Kovacs faces new adversaries: the priests of the fundamentalist, misogynistic Knights of the New Revolution, the Yakuza, and karikuri, nanotechnology gone rogue. He joins forces with a deCom crew led by a command-head who thinks she is the three-centuries old revolutionary Quellcrist Falconer. Most dangerous of all, someone has sleeved a younger version of Kovacs to hunt down his older counterpart and inflict real death.

Morgan excels at world building. The cities and neighborhoods in Woken Furies are well-developed with rich details, and in the third Kovacs book, it is fitting to travel to his home world. He also is a master of including small details that become relevant as the plot progresses. (It brings to mind Chekhov’s warning, “”If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired. Otherwise don’t put it there.”) The narrative is surprising and has numerous twists and turns with an ultimately satisfying conclusion.

While the book is primarily an adventure, it also asks questions about identity when a person can exist for centuries through resleeving in new bodies and also about what is real when it is possible to exist in a virtual landscape.

In Woken Furies, much of motivation hinges on one of Kovacs’ past relationships, but the underlying meaning of the relationship was not developed enough to make the motivation believable. Additionally, Kovacs is fickle with his loyalty, and it doesn’t always make sense why he chooses one character over another. It’s a small quibble, but one of my reading pet peeves: Morgan tends frequently to use similies that do less to describe than to take me out of the narrative (e.g., “like a used wipe in a beach bonfire” or “like wrappings of bloodstained gauze”).

Like the second Kovacs book, the plot in Woken Furies is self-contained, and besides the terminology (e.g., sleeves, needlecast) and description of the Martians who first colonized the universe, reading the first two entries in the series isn’t necessary. It’s a fitting conclusion to the story and will definitely appeal to Takeshi Kovacs fans.

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Populace

Populace - A.M. WilsonPopulace

by A.M. Wilson

After a series of nuclear attacks that wiped out Washington DC, New York City, and Los Angeles, the New United States of America formed in Omaha, Nebraska. Roger Wilkins, President, is also CEO of the most powerful company, the Leviathan Corporation. They keep the populace compliant through a diet of synthetic drugs and fear, not to mention a chip implanted at the base of their neck that will explode if they leave the city. Most of the population lives in ghettos with their food and necessities provided by the government, but Tom Stout is an elite. He is one of the few real people who work in the Communications Department, and his status affords him an apartment overlooking the bread line–to remind him of his roots–and a beautiful, wealthy fiancee. A personal meeting with Wilkins himself elevates his ambition.

But in this cocoon of safety, a shattering act of violence propels Tom out of the city. Roger tasks him with finding terrorist and traitor Joe Ikowski, responsible for inventing a device that has killed thousands. With a band of Immortals, a highly trained team of elite soldiers, Tom journeys to underground caves in Kentucky. His quest takes him to the Arizona desert, Mexico, and the Rocky Mountains. Without synthetic drugs to dull his mind, he experiences emotions for the first time, developing friendships, testing loyalties, and questioning the authority of the government. During his trek across what was once America, Tom begins to learn the unthinkable truth of his country and the origin of his own identity. With its indictment of current policies, Populace stands as a cautionary tale, but it is also a rollicking read with interesting and unexpected turns.

What I liked best about the book was the story which captured my attention and appealed to my interest in dystopias and science fiction. It incorporates several common aspects of such work but combines them in novel ways. It was also interesting to see the “old” United States through the eyes of Tom, who yearned for it, and Mike, who had lived in it. These perspectives provide a lens for the readers to consider issues currently facing society–income inequality, hunger, and climate change, for example. Wilson incorporated some current political issues to humorous effect; in one scene, the Mexican government is worried about refugees and wants Leviathan to pay for a wall. More serious are the different ways that governments use to control the populace and maintain power despite a near-universal desire for freedom. The extent to which people have a choice in their subjugation is a question that lingers after the book ends.

A few facets of the book were problematic. I found a few inconsistencies in plot. Additionally, at times, the dialogue was awkward and stiff. One particular device reminded me so much of Matrix Reloaded that I found myself distracted. The biggest problem in the book, though, is the treatment of women. I could see an argument being made that in a hierarchical, highly controlled society, gender divisions would become more rigid, and in presenting gender in this way, the author is attacking such structures. However, I don’t think that’s what is happening here. For example, all the Immortals are men as are the dronewalker pilots. Including female soldiers and pilots would have enriched the book and promoted diversity. Likewise, in the Rabbit Hole, a brothel, the prostitutes, at least those mentioned, are all women adhering to an idealized type. To me, this represents a missed opportunity and decreased my overall enjoyment of the novel. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the novel. I did like it and would recommend it to others who appreciate dystopian fiction. I just think it had even more potential.

Thank you to Netgalley and A.M. Wilson for providing an advance reading copy in exchange for an honest review.

New Clone City

IMG_7532New Clone City

by Mike Hembry

New Clone City is a futuristic metropolis full of diverse characters and disincentive neighborhoods. Almost everyone has wetware and navigates through projections and virtual advertising, trying their best to avoid having psychotic episodes from the stimuli. With New Clone City lies Fuji City, housing the many refugees streaming into the city from war-torn areas.

Within this environment, we meet Jimmy, who is fond of alcohol and drugs but not so much of working, though is loved by his common-law wife, Julia, regardless. Hostile and aloof Claire works at a vegan health food store fronting as an eco-revolutionary collective. Among the transsexual and queer sex workers who frequent Charlie’s Garden, dominatrix Jeannie provides leadership to a well-organized community. And Al, agent of the state police, hates them all. The characters travel their own trajectories, at times intersecting, but ultimately following their own arcs against the treat of climate change, a burgeoning refugee crisis, and Al’s determination to destroy the diversity that gives New Clone City its flavor.

Mike Hembury presents a vivid depiction of the urban environment filled with unusual street names and unique stores, restaurants, and churches. It’s easy to believe, reading the book, that New Clone City is real, not the product of imagination. The themes of climate change, refugees, and state-sponsored terrorism are timely and important but here are not presented in preachy, dogmatic ways. And the primary characters were all diverse, not a straight, white male among them. Although it took me some time to get into the book and acclimate to the unique style and tone, I became very invested in the characters, particularly Jeannie.

Some aspects of the book that I didn’t like included a somewhat choppy way of writing, where most of the sentences are subject+verb without much variety. I also thought that some of the characters were inconsistent. For example, Claire, who when we first meet her is wearing a shirt condemning driving throws out an orange juice carton instead of recycling it. And at times, the dialogue is stilted and unnatural.

Towards the begging of the book, the “U,” New Clone City’s transportation system, offers myriad examples of technology and how the real, or “meatworld,” interface, including Claire’s virtual panthers who are visible to others jacked in. However, this integration disappears as the book progresses, and only Claire and her boyfriend Illya seem to connect to the virtual world. While this could be a function of different characters of different classes and their varying access to technology, it seems strange that in large crowd scenes, such as a riot precipitated by police during a peaceful demonstration, that no one has projections or is jacked in.

Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of the book is that there is less resolution than I like when reading a novel. While the characters have come to a natural pause in their storylines, there was enough open-endedness that I felt unsettled. Hembury has said that he’s developing a sequel, so hopefully, the plot lines will be developed in the next novel in the series. I will definitely be reading it!

Thank you to NetGally and the Wild World for providing an advance reading copy in exchange for an honest review.

Broken Angels by Richard K. Morgan

broken angels - richard k morgan.jpgThirty years after the events of Altered Carbon, Takeshi Kovacs has taken sides in a war on Sanction VI working as a lieutenant for the Wedge, an elite and brutal mercenary army. Yet his thin allegiance frays when pilot Jan Schneider bluffs his way onto a highly secure hospital ship and dangles an opportunity Kovacs can’t ignore. An exorbitant payday to secure a Martian ship in deep space, the gateway to which was discovered by archeologue Tanya Wardani. All they need to do is form an alliance with an untrusty corporate executive, operate in an area full of radiation, steer clear of nanotechnology with unlimited evolutionary power, and steer clear of the fighting forces that have made the location of the gateway a key strategic acquisition. With his Envoy training and a new sleeve maximized for war, Kovacs leads the expedition and tries to maintain its safety while they grapple with the ancient puzzle opening the gateway and the mysteries beyond it.

Kovacs is as sardonic as in Book 1, and despite his training often defaults to violence, so it is interesting to watch him navigate the events of the novel. He just can’t keep himself from making bad situations worse, it seems. How can he lose control so often when he is supposed to have so much self-control? More background on Martian society and what Earth colonization owes to it is included in this book, and the setting, Sanction IV, a war-ravaged planet, provides a different perspective on the corporations and the Protectorate, the ruling government.

Though I thought this would be a heist novel, it isn’t, though it does have a captivating story that kept me engaged. Some aspects of the novel were less appealing. Characters like Jan Schneider were thinly developed. Kovacs seemed at times to pine for Detective Kristin Ortega which seems unwarranted given how Altered Carbon ended their relationship. The resolution of one story line came completely out of the blue for me, and it didn’t seem to be an organic development. Finally, Morgan used a device to indicate pauses in character’s speech that was very annoying and overdone, for example, “You seem. Close to her” or “Well, he’s not a. Bad looking. Guy for a. White boy and. Wardani, well. She’d probably. Take whatever. She can get.”

It’s hard not to compare the book to Altered Carbon, though the two are so different, comparisons are almost unfair. In fact, besides the introduction to Kovacs, the Envoys, Quellism, sleeves, and needlecasting, Book 1 has little to do with Book 2. Kovacs is the only returning character. If readers approach Broken Angels expecting a second Altered Carbon, I think they will be disappointed. However, it is a solid read with an unpredictable plot and a charismatic narrator.