Woken Furies: When Takeshi Kovacs is in a bad mood, people die

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fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsRichard K. Morgan Woken FuriesWoken Furies by Richard K. Morgan

Takeshi Kovacs spends most of Woken Furies, the third book in the Kovacs series, in a bad mood. Kovacs is an ex-Envoy, a carefully selected, highly trained, rigidly conditioned assassin for the powerful and draconian Protectorate, so when he’s in a bad mood, people usually die.

Of course, many of them are not really dead, or rather, Really Dead, because people in Richard K. Morgan’s future universe have cortical stacks, shiny storage devices attached to their cervical vertebrae, holding consciousness. As long as your cortical stack is undamaged, your consciousness can just be downloaded into a new physical body, called a “sleeve.” While you’re waiting for a sleeve your consciousness can be dormant, or it might be active, inserted into a virtual environment. This could be a paradise or a torture chamber, depending upon who got hold of your stack.

Each book in the series can stand alone, with one or two overarching storylines, mostly focused on a 300-years-Really Dead revolutionary named Quellcrist Falconer, and the peculiar Martian satellites that orbit Harlan’s World, the planet where Kovacs was born. The discovery of Martian artifacts, the decoding of their technology and their astro-charts propelled humanity off Earth and into space, on the trail of already terra-formed planets. Presumably, this jump to space pushed the cloning and the development of the magical soul-amulets, oops, sorry, cortical storage devices. It isn’t clear where all the sleeves come from, whose genetic material is being harvested for the sleeves, or even how people who decide they want to have a child are choosing to do that now that consciousness and identity have been irrevocably sundered from DNA. What does this do to inheritance laws, since there is no way to use DNA tracking to verify identity once a person has shifted bodies?

There’s not much discussion about how this triumph of Calvinistic mind-body split affected people psychologically or spiritually. These aren’t Doris Lessing novels. They are a cross between military science fiction and dystopian SF–SF noir.

For that sub-genre, this video-game trope with its endless supply of spare lives works well. Morgan has done a great job of establishing the legacy of the Martian technology, although it helped that I had read the previous books first. The Martian machines that orbit Harlan’s World, where Kovacs has returned, are intriguing and deadly, since they vaporize any airborne craft that gets more than a certain distance above sea level. There is only one place on the planet where shuttles to the star ships can land and take off, presumably because the satellites allow it. No one knows why the orbitals do this; sometimes, arbitrarily, the orbitals shoot at other things. Nobody controls the orbitals; nobody knows how.

Kovacs is pursuing a scheme of personal vengeance when he connects with a group of DeComs, soldiers for hire who decommission smart weapons left on the planet’s war-ravaged lost continent. He’s also dodging the local yakuza. Soon he realizes that one of the DeComs appears to be channeling the consciousness of the long-dead revolutionary. Then he finds out that the yakuza clan has sleeved a backup copy of himself, to hunt him down.

Woken Furies has plenty of suspense and Morgan’s action sequences hum with intensity. The action moves from the lost continent to the planetary capital to a surfing community that could have been lifted intact from Oahu’s North Shore. Although most of the women are comrades in arms, corporate drones or sex-buddies, the idea of Woman is represented as subversive and powerful — the source of equality, of horizontal networking rather than hierarchy and privilege. It is interesting to see how Morgan pulls that off, given the violence that is usually inflicted on his women characters.

Morgan is liberal with his use of the f-word. He uses it the way people under forty do now, for emphasis and pacing — and he also uses it correctly to mean copulation. Since the dialogue is one of the strong points of the book, and characters use many colorful phrases and descriptions, I can’t tell if Morgan is using rough language out of habit, in an attempt to capture a sense of camaraderie, or whether he is trying to show us something about the deadening of sensibility in his world. Reading this as the culmination of a trilogy, I would have to say the author is making a point about how far removed from humanity his characters have become.

Kovacs, the pinnacle of human engineering and conditioning, is a bit slow sometimes. I found myself yelling at the book, “It’s a setup! A setup!” more than once, like a viewer of a bad horror movie. Even though he’s not the sharpest tool in the shed, he is inventive when the chips are down. Woken Furies has action and adventure. It has exotic animals that fight humans in pits. It has mythical beings who hurl lightning from the skies, and a woman revolutionary about to turn a complacent, corrupt planet upside down. Kovacs, at her side, may even achieve a measure of redemption.

~Marion Deeds


Richard K. Morgan Woken FuriesBack on his home planet of Harlan’s World, Takeshi Kovacs is trying to mind his own business — which happens to be a personal open season on the priests of a fanatical religion. However, he soon becomes a target of the Yakuza, hiring on with some machine-killing mercenaries, on the outs with the ruling family, in bed with a resurrected legendary rebel prophet, and throwing in with surfer revolutionaries, all while being hunted by a younger version of himself. Despite being so darned adorable Kovacs just can’t get an even break, but he does kind of bring it on himself.

Woken Furies is Richard K. Morgan’s third and latest TAKESHI KOVACS novel. Raw-edged violence, graphic sex, and bad attitudes continue to be a mainstay of this series. (Can you say awesome?) Altered Carbon is still my favorite but Woken Furies comes in as a very close second. Without risking a spoiler, I will say the conclusion of Woken Furies is the most satisfying of the three books.

If you’ve read the proceeding TAKESHI KOVACS novels, you already know that the most crucial element of this series is the technology that allows a person’s consciousness to be uploaded into a “cortical stack” which in turn can been implanted into another vacant body or “sleeve.” As long as a person has the means to acquire their next sleeve and as long as their cortical stack remains intact, they will never die. What makes Mr. Morgan’s take on immortality different is that except for the extremely wealthy who can afford to be cloned, there’s no telling who, or sometimes what, someone will be “re-sleeved” as. This makes for intriguing twists because Takeshi changes bodies like we do cars. Sometimes he gets a top-of-the-line, high-performance model. Other times, his sleeve is just something he’s stuck with until he can do better.

Kovacs has got to be one of the angriest and self-loathing characters in fiction. He racks up a body count that rivals CONAN THE BARBARIAN. If that’s not enough incentive to stay off his bad side, Kovacs makes revenge an art form of which he is the master. Just like the Pale Rider of the apocalypse, where Takeshi Kovacs goes, Hell follows.

Harlan’s World is a very interesting setting with its high ocean-to-land ratio and ancient Martian satellites that blast most everything out of the sky. The largest landmass on Harlan’s World is currently uninhabitable due to evolving artificially intelligent machines which mercenaries called deComs make a good, but dangerous, living destroying. Not to mention that the planet’s three moons make for a courageous — or maybe suicidal — surfers’ paradise. Three centuries previous, after a failed revolution, the all-powerful Protectorate granted the rule of the entire planet to the Harlan family, who has a truce of sorts with the rampant criminal underworld. Also a twisted religion — much like the beliefs of al Qaida — has been growing steadily. And this is Takeshi Kovacs’ hometown. Add that to an abusive father and it’s no wonder he’s so screwed up.

While Kovacs’ antisocial behavior, violent tendencies, and authority issues may make him self-destructive and a danger to society, they make one helluva a dark adventure for readers. Kovacs holds a special place in my jaded heart.

~Greg Hersom


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MARION DEEDS, with us since March 2011, is retired from a 35-year career with county government, where she met enough interesting characters and heard enough zany stories to inspire at least two trilogies’ worth of fantasy fiction. Currently she spends part of her time working at a local used bookstore. She is an aspiring writer herself and, in the 1990s, had short fiction published in small magazines like Night Terrors, Aberrations, and in the cross-genre anthology The Magic Within. On her blog Deeds & Words, she reviews many types of books and follows developments in food policy and other topics.

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GREG HERSOM’S (on FanLit's staff January 2008 -- September 2012) 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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6 comments

  1. Ah, man, it’s just killing me to see low(ish) grades given to these books. I adored them and would have given every one a full five stars, both for the writing and the quality of the story. I guess it’s a matter of taste.

  2. I’ve got to read these books. Kovacs just seems like my kinda guy. :)

  3. jjdebenedictus–This is purely a matter of personal taste, plus, as a reviewer with definite opinions, I struggle a bit with the rating system. First of all, I think I’m a bit of a hard grader–books I love tend to get 4 1/2 stars, not 5. Secondly, I can have problems with a book and still enjoy it mostly, or think the writer did what he (in this case) set out to do. And you should absolutely continue to champion the books you love! That’s what makes this site so interesting.

  4. I have somewhat similar conflictions when doing my own star ratings. The longer I’ve been doing reviews the tougher I’ve gotten. But on the flip-side, I’m one of those kinda people that when I like something, I tend to really like it and when I don’t, I don’t -not much middle of the road for me.
    It’s really hard for me to get through a book that I feel like is 3 stars or less. Even more-so now-a-days, cause there is just so many good books out there calling my name.

  5. I liked the ending, and I loved the surfer dudes.

  6. Me too, Marion! I kept thinking about Point Break. :)

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