Monday, May 30, 2016

Broken Angels review


    Broken Angels is the second novel of the Takeshi Kovacs series. Whereas Altered Carbon was a future noir detective story in the future, Broken Angels is a war picture. Even the decades change with Altered Carbon feeling vaguely 1940s-like, Broken Angels feels like it takes place in a pseudo-Vietnam.  I was initially disappointed to see none of the original cast but Takeshi was returning from the first book and that this took place no less than thirty years later. I really became fond of Detective Ortega, the Bancrofts, and other characters as well as the Pulp-ish mood. Still, I was willing to give the novel a shot and am glad I did.

    Broken Angels' premise is Takeshi Kovacs is now a Lieutenant in the private military company of Carrera's Wedges. He's well-liked by everyone, which is somewhat mystifying since he's an absolutely awful military commander who constantly snubs the men under his command as well as his superiors. Blame it on Envoy training, I guess. After a particularly nasty battle, he's approached by a pilot named Schneider who claims to have a lead on a intact Martian spaceship that could elevate humanity's technological capacity by centuries.

    Forming a ragtag bunch of misfits from soldiers waiting to be re-sleeved (essentially, resurrected), he rescues a lovely archaeologist from a prison camp and heads after the ultimate prize. It's a good book, halfway between Three Kings and Apocalypse Now IN SPACE. However, it does have one flaw: Takeshi Kovacs is a completely unlikable *******. It's always a balance with antiheroes as you never want to make them so awful the audience doesn't care what happens to them or too good as it costs them their edge. Here, Takeshi's actions really undermine the idea we should give a **** what happens to him.

    His constant betrayals, put-downs of anyone who believes in anything, and the fact he's solely motivated by money in an exceptionally brutal civil war make you question why we should care whether he succeeds or not. By the end, when he's engaged in a murderous rampage of retribution, I was actually hoping someone would grab Takeshi's stack (cybernetic memory recorder) and fry it. It's an interesting strategy to reveal your protagonist is a murderous psychopath but it's something Takeshi has informed people of before. It's just here that he proves it.

    It may seem like I hate Takeshi for his portrayal in this book and I kind of do but not in a way that means I didn't want to read more of him. He's at his wits end and gone a little insane because of the war pushing all of his buttons. This makes him an extremely good character and one I loved to hate even though he's become a genuinely bad man versus a merely dark one. It's a sign of how immortality works in the setting that I think, back in civilization, he'd come back from the monster he's become here (which he does in the third book).

    The supporting cast, this time around, isn't quite as likable as the one in Altered Carbon but they're still extremely memorable and interesting. It's also a dynamic made more interesting by the fact everyone is completely untrustworthy. In most stories, you know who you can depend on and who you can't but here everyone is a murderous criminal. That includes the protagonist. There's double-crosses from people I didn't suspect and fidelity from those I expected would betray the protagonist. It helps that Takeshi also makes it a point to annoy everyone around him, like stealing the girlfriend of the guy who brought him the heist, that you understand why people would turn on him too.

    Richard K. Morgan has a engrossing horrific vision of war in the future. The savagery of conflict coupled with new and terrifying technological devices. It's a sobering idea that you can have a massive technological like the corporations and their mercenaries do but none of this will make the slightest bit of difference if the enemy is sufficiently determined. Neither side is portrayed as justified with atrocities having built up on both sides. The characters are all well-developed with the only problem I had being it was sometimes difficult to keep up with all of them thanks to the large number of Takeshi's recruits.

    I will say the romance, if you can call it that, between Takeshi and Tanya is more compelling than the one between Takeshi and Kristan Ortega in the original novel. After rescuing her from the prison camp, Takeshi manages to help treat her PTSD with Envoy techniques but it results in her falling in a mixture of love and lust with him. We get to see how sex is affected by perfectly simulated virtual reality as well as how mutable loyalties can be with Envoy training. I also think she was an extremely compelling character and ranks with the religious corporate Matthias Hand as two of my favorites in the series.

    Do I recommend this book as much as Altered Carbon? Not quite. I think it has some benefits over the original like better sex scenes and a more powerful backdrop with the war but Takeshi is less likable in this environment while the other characters tend to be sleazier. In a very real way, solving a Methuselah's murder is more compelling than finding a lost piece of Martian space junk. Still, I very much enjoyed the book and am glad I read it.

8/10

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