Science fiction and fantasy                                            

Broken Angels

by Richard Morgan


It's hard to get a handle on someone who can change every aspect of their appearance and physical strengths. Takeshi Kovacs inhabits a universe in which the body is just a "sleeve", like a garment which can be discarded as soon as it wears out. A person's essence is reduced to a digital data stack, a small black box kept within the spine that retains their every thought and memory.

For a man who often exists as little more than a stream of virtual data, Kovacs has a very physical presence. For all that his brawn is only borrowed, he comes across as every inch the tough guy. At the beginning of Broken Angels he's wearing a combat body and fighting a war that's as brutal and pointless as any.

In Richard Morgan's universe, war has not improved for being largely non-lethal. People have simply found more effective ways of inflicting pain on each other, and real death is still a possibility. Kovacs is mired in the war on the planet of Sanction IV, a war between the Protectorate and the followers of Kemp. It's not clear what they are fighting for exactly, but Kovacs has taken the precaution of choosing the side he believes is most likely to win. He wants to get out, but even though he is a mercenary rather than a conscript, a planet-wide blockade makes leaving difficult.

The opportunity to escape comes in the form of Jan Schneider, a man with information about an important archaeological find concerning a lost Martian civilisation. The discovery could be worth a lot of money, easily enough to buy their way out of this war. Together they assemble a team which includes Tanya Wardani, a traumatised archaeologist who they pull from an internment camp, and a number of special ops experts.

Unfortunately there are various people interested in sabotaging the dig. Going on it means that Kovacs has to go AWOL from his Wedge combat unit, so the group need to avoid combatants from both sides. It also becomes apparent that there are enemies within the group Kovacs assembles, as well as amongst the rivals of their commercial sponsor.

This dig introduces a new element into Kovacs' world, that of an advanced alien civilisation which has disappeared, leaving humans with a trail of ultra-high technology which has allowed them to colonise the stars. The mystery of where the Martians went, and why, is a major theme in Broken Angels. Did they evolve beyond mutual destruction, or did they simply get much better at it and wipe themselves out? The novel poses the question of whether increasing violence is an inevitable part of evolution.

Towards the end of the book Broken Angels does tend to descend into an orgy of violence, and in places this seems a little confusing and gratuitous. The book certainly explores a wide range of ideas, however, so that ultimately this is a science fiction thriller with plenty of colour and action rather than a mere series of battles. The complex plotting and vivid scenarios give Broken Angels enough intelligence to be an interesting read.

Book Details

Year: 2003

Categories: Books

  Science fiction
    Male Protagonist  
  Not For The Squeamish  

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Kil'n People by David Brin
Disposable bodies: what every smart, fashionable professional should have.

4 star rating

Review © Ros Jackson

More about Richard Morgan

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