Broken Angels: Life is cheap

Richard K. Morgan Takeshi Kovacs 1. Altered Carbon 2. Broken AngelsRichard K. Morgan Broken AngelsBroken Angels by Richard K. Morgan

Thirty years after the events in Altered Carbon, Takeshi Kovacs hires on with Carrera’s Wedge, a mercenary outfit contracted by the government-supported corporations to fight against revolutionaries on the distant planet Sanction IV. Kovacs is a former Envoy — one of the elite covert ops commandos feared throughout known space. So, like it or not, all-out military conflict is what Kovacs does best. However, he has become bone-weary of the stalemate that is only serving to greatly increase the body count. So when a pilot approaches Kovacs with tales of a Martian artifact that can instantaneously transport people and things to the edges of the universe, he seizes on a way out with a huge pay-off as an added bonus. Kovacs finagles Matthias Hand, a high executive with the Mandrake Corporation, to get financial backing for a clandestine mission to recover the ancient, alien star-gate. Kovacs and Hand purchase a team of specialized soldiers for the job from the “Soul Market” and initiate plans. But just who is working for whom? Who are the good guys? Is there even such a thing as the good guys? Just what the hell will Kovacs and his team discover and, most importantly, will anyone make it out alive?

Where Altered Carbon was a neo-noir mystery, Broken Angels is military science fiction. Still, Broken Angels has the same dark, edgy feel as that first TAKESHI KOVACS novel. The technologies that Morgan first explains in Altered Carbon continue to be a key element of this series. Technological and scientific advances that should improve quality of life only grant those in authority more power over the masses. Science has defeated death, but immortality has made human life into little more than an abundant commodity. That life is cheap is a heavy theme throughout the story.

Landscapes littered with dusty colossal industrial hulks, oppressive corporations, ultra-deadly military weaponry, globe-encompassing war, and weird alien relics are all elements that serve to create a grim far-future for mankind. The realization that the universe is full of unknown terrors that can at any moment swallow us up like we never existed is horrifying.

There isn’t a single character in this story that I could say is likable. It’s almost unsettling how Morgan can still make them charismatic. Takeshi Kovacs himself frowns — just a little bit — on the senselessness of wholesale slaughter but won’t hesitate to kill and kill again. Although they are in a shaky alliance, Matthias Hand serves as Kovacs’ nemesis in this book. As the ultimate corporate ass, Hand would be a character that I have personal reasons to hate, but he becomes one of my favorites in the book. Almost all the team members have intriguing personalities and pasts that lend unique perspectives to the events.

Broken Angels might be righteously accused of overkill. Multiple climactic events slightly confuse the flow, as if it’s really two books instead of one. The casualty rate may make it a contender for a fiction world record. Don’t ask me who the good guys are, because I’m still not sure. The biggest hurdle Broken Angels may have is that it’s just so dark that many readers may find it depressing. However, this reader didn’t have any of those problems.

So what if it reads a little like it’s more than one book? What can I say? Broken Angels is a bargain. Planet-wide warfare with futuristic weapons and the ability to bring 90% of dead soldiers back to life would make the violence unimaginable. Personally, I think good guys are overrated — but if one is needed, I choose Kovacs. True, he’s in my top five list of the most pissed-off fictional characters of all time, but he’s got good reason. Plus, you have to admire a man that sticks to a code of honor, even if it’s his own, slightly skewed one.

Regarding the pervasive doom-and-gloom in Broken Angels, I managed to find a candle-flicker in the blackness. Just like in Altered Carbon, Morgan sneaks in profound musings about what it is to be human. I took heart in finding that even in our grim far-flung future, when science can deliver what only religion promised before, faith survives. Many of the people in this story still believe in a supreme being and take comfort in that knowledge. Kovacs may or may not buy into it himself, but with his authority issues, his opinions are understandable.

Besides, how can you not love a guy who sticks it to the man every chance he gets?


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GREG HERSOM’S addiction began with his first Superboy comic at age four. He moved on to the hard-stuff in his early teens after acquiring all of Burroughs’s Tarzan books and the controversial L. Sprague de Camp & Carter edited Conan series. His favorite all time author is Robert E. Howard. Greg also admits that he’s a sucker for a well-illustrated cover — the likes of a Frazetta or a Royo. Greg live with his wife, son, and daughter in a small house owned by a dog and two cats in a Charlotte, NC suburb. He retired from FanLit in Septermber 2012 after 4.5 years of faithful service but he still sends us a review every once in a while.

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4 comments

  1. Greg – I think the slogan for the whole Kovacs series is, “Life is Cheap.”

    I love how you managed to capture exactly what I liked about this book and exactly what I didn’t like about it. Now I really want to see what you make of Woken Furies!

  2. Thanks so much, Marion. I’d been waiting to see what you thought. :)
    One thing -which accents our wide range of taste here at FanLit-; the part at the “Soul Market” that you wasn’t so crazy about, was actually one of my favorite parts. But I definitely understand why you didn’t like it.

    Funny you mention Woken Furies, I just recently re-read your review and now I’m looking forward to it even more. I’d be reading it now, but I need to get a new release done first.

  3. Greg — okay, I didn’t like the Soul Market scene, but I did think it was very well done. One of the things I like about Morgan is his descriptive detail, even when it creeps me out. One of the things the Soul Market scene did perfectly was demonstrate how humans have been reduced to commodities, and not even shiny expensive ones at that, but retreads shovelled into a bargain bin like size 12 flip-flops at a Barney’s basement sale.

  4. Well said Marion- Morgan really does know how to make the story real. In Broken Angels, at times, it was almost too much in comparison to Altered Carbon.

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