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.