Anne wanted to know if I’ve read any SF or fantasy that I might be willing to recommend (or pan!) to my readers.
I gulp fantasies. Oh, mostly they’re all cliched and formulaic, but, dayum, I likes me some Dark Lord-on-the-surge/homebodies-who-get-caught-up-in-the-grand-quest/doomed-ancient-hero-families combos. Then again, there are some fantasies that I’ve read that either take on the Dark Lord with a twist or a new viewpoint, or else have a totally different focus.
You get those in later posts. (Hah!) Today’s post is for hard SF.
As is usual, at my last visit to GrannyJ, I loaded up with some of her SF. I have no idea where she gets these things; every time I visit the book stores lately, what I see is row upon row of vampire/paranormal fantasy (eh) mixed in with a few fantasy authors who specialize in fifty kazillion books all based on the same world, or even the same series (sometimes like, sometimes don’t), plus a plethora of military SF (which I actually love). But mom is always coming up with New! and Different! SF books and authors who I have never seen. This may be because the bookstores I have been patronizing are all chain bookstores aimed at peddling the SF-flavor-of-the-month (or year), and the devil take the offbeat or different.
So. This trip, GrannyJ passed on a trio of books by a guy name of Richard K. Morgan; Altered Carbon, Broken Angels, and Woken Furies, also known as the “Takeshi Kovacs novels”. As usual, again, her comment was, “You might like these.”
Call them SF noir. The setting is about four centuries into the future. Mankind has expanded to the stars, due to finding a slew of old arcane machinery…and associated buried cities…left behind on the planet Mars by a mysterious and long-gone alien race. Really alien race, as in, “if you try to understand these sapients–or their architecture, or even their technology–you may end up going utterly and absolutely bonkers.”
At the same time, humanity has developed the ability to “re-sleeve” dead humans. Sort of like an organ transplant, except it’s your consciousness that gets transplanted (after being carefully recorded by a cortical stack). Taking Larry Niven’s concept of “organleggers” one step further, Morgan’s future is one of a society that gets new bodies for “deserving” people (aka “rich” people or “connected” people) by borrowing them from convicts, whose consciousness gets decanted into a holding pattern. If you’re lucky, in a well-kept-up virtual reality; otherwise, a poorly-kept-up VR, or even nothingness. Oh, yeah, and the criminal rings will steal bodies for use in re-sleeving.
Oh, yeah, there are criminal rings galore in this future. Corruption pervades society from the bottom to the top. Take Takeshi Kovacs home world, Harlan’s World (a nod to Harlan Ellison?). It was originally settled by Japanese, some Mafia families, and Eastern Europeans, each ethnicity bringing with it its own take on the underworld.
Takeshi Kovacs was a low-level thug on his home world, until he was recruited into the super-elite Envoy Corps, whose mission in the end is to help the governing elite of the various worlds to maintain the status quo. This sometimes means starting a war in order to put down revolutionaries who might actually, say, help the downtrodden regain a bit of dignity. The upside of being an Envoy is being regarded as heroes by the upper-class, and as unstoppable by almost all. Oh, yes, and you get a never-ending supply of re-sleeves. The downside is that the military, knowing they can resurrect you, can send you into horrible situations over and over and over and over again.
That was then. This is now: Kovacs has long since left the Envoys and is now a sort of free-lancer, a mercenary-cum-detective. He’s cold, cynical, hard-bitten, vicious, callous–and underneath it all, very idealistic and learning empathy.
The books are vivid, harsh, violent, profane, full of (to me, damned well-written) sex scenes. There is a growing crescendo of anti-governing classes sentiment that starts (relatively) low at the beginning but blossoms and explodes by the third book. There’s also the question of the ethics of re-sleeving (on both ends–the “sleevee” and the “sleever”) and what it means to be “you”. What makes you what you are? How much of who you are is based on your physical body? Is love a physical thing or a mental/spiritual thing? Underlying it all is the mystery of who were the Martians, how did they live, why did they disappear, and can anyone truly understand them?
Lots of interesting questions. I highly recommend these books, but only if you’re able to handle really graphic violence and sex, and lots of it.