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Broken Angels
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89 of 94 people found the following review helpful
on March 29, 2004
Last year I read Richard K. Morgan's first novel, Altered Carbon, and was blown away. Such smart, edge-of-your seat darkness is hard to come by. But it also meant that Morgan set a very high standard for himself in his debut.
Broken Angels is a wonderful book and I recommend it. It's a page-turner, but I have to say it isn't as hard-hitting as Altered Carbon. Still, to say that it is not as good would be unfair because the two books can't be compared. Where Morgan's antihero, Takeshi Kovacs, was ex-special-ops-turned-private-eye-by-circumstance in the first book, this time he returns to his military roots as a mercenary fighting a planetary rebellion. The mystery novel is a genre that lends itself to the twist and turns that makes Altered Carbon great. Morgan (perhaps smartly) avoids comparison by choosing a much more subdued wartime setting for this adventure.
One thing that remains constant is the darkness; you can't get more noir than this. While Morgan's consciousness-digitizing technology was cool and mind-bending in the first book, here it is dehumanizing and bleak. In one scene, Kovacs goes to a "souls market" where piles and piles of "stacks" (digitized personalities of real people) could be bought. Death is no longer the worst punishment possible; centuries of torture can be inflicted on your digital self. War and the attendant death have lost meaning. All this and the zero-sum power games played by governments, corporations, and guilds seem to contribute to Kovac's increasingly nihilist worldview.
Another difference that I wasn't so thrilled about is that while Kovacs was cast as a beat-down mercenary and half-hearted criminal just trying to "get to the next screen" in the first book, here he ultimately finds himself in the middle of one of the most important events in human history. I was expecting more of the anonymous and reluctant protagonist, so I guess I was a little thrown off.
Nevertheless, this is a fantastic book, and Richard K. Morgan is a great writer who I'm sure I'll pick up again. If you like Altered Carbon, you should definitely give this a shot. And is you haven't read Altered Carbon, what are you waiting for?
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89 of 95 people found the following review helpful
on March 14, 2004
_Altered Carbon_ wasn't a fluke. Richard K. Morgan is one _helluva_ writer.
This book has been available in the UK for the better part of a year, and having been thoroughly impressed with Morgan's first book, I've been eagerly awaiting the US release of his second. I am _so_ not disappointed.
You'll recognize the backdrop; it's the same corporate-controlled dystopian future we've seen in pretty much every cyber-nano-crypto-geno-neuro-psycho-techno-noir SF novel since Phil Dick founded cyberpunk and forgot to insist on receiving credit for it.
But Morgan isn't just recycling familiar themes here, any more than Beethoven imitated Bach by using some of the same notes. Morgan has his own outlook, his own themes, and his own voice.
If you've read the introductory plot summaries elsewhere on this page, you already know everything I could tell you without spoiling things. Suffice it to say that Takeshi Kovacs is back and in excellent form. Here, he's initially serving with Carrera's Wedge, deployed on Sanction IV against an uprising led by one Joshua Kemp, when he's approached with -- and accepts -- a surprising offer.
_Broken Angels_ not only has a fine plot of its own but fills in some more of the backstory for _Altered Carbon_. Nor is it a rehash of its hardboiled-PI predecessor; this one's military SF, more along the lines of _The Forever War_, with which it shares some abstract themes and narrative flavor.
That narrative flavor alone makes the book worth reading. Morgan is such a powerful writer that even if you get bored with the action (not likely), you can enjoy yourself by just sitting back and watching the prose crackle. (But don't look away for even a single paragraph; you'll miss something.)
In short, _Broken Angels_ will appeal to readers who liked _Altered Carbon_ but who don't expect Morgan to keep rewriting the same book over and over. _Very_ well done, and it belongs on the very shortest shortlist of good recent SF.
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27 of 29 people found the following review helpful
on April 11, 2004
I have now read Broken Angels and Morgan's first book Altered Carbon, and although most other reviewers seem to like AC better, I think the 2nd book is actually better. Altered Carbon was a brilliant book, but many of its concepts have already been done. It was the setting and character of Takeshi Kovacs that made it so outstanding. You should however go right out and read it if you have not yet done so.
With Broken Angels Morgan is moving into a different territory. There is still the "great mystery" that is the subject of just about any book of this type, but Morgan does a better job with the characters and plot. The one thing that I actually like that seems to upset other reviewers is that he does not always explain the 'cultural artifacts' that he inserts. I like how he references some idea, only to move on, leaving it for future exploration or your own imagination of how it ties into his world. In particular, I love the Quellist quotes that lay throughout both books. I'd love to see him write a "biography" of Quellcrist Falconer and hope its already planned. Given the big revelation at the end of the book, he certainly intends to continue with the Quellist involvement in the books.
Just as a possibility, by looking at the acknowlegements section of this book, it should be clear that he leans towards a feminist/evil government/evil corporation world view and it impinges upon his writing. I think in many ways he is trying to do for these subjects what Andrew Vachss has done for child abuse with his books, but he's not quite as good an author as Vachss.
Anyway, please go out and read both of these books. They deserve to be read as some of the better sci-fi with cyberpunk overtones that have been published in a while. I'd have to rate them as my most favorite books since Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson.
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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
...It would be difficult for me to overstate my appreciation and respect for Broken Angels; the second in what will be a series of novels about Takeshi Kovacs, the semi-immortal antihero who is as animated and complex as the mind-numbingly interesting times he operates in.
Not since (Neal Stephenson's) Snowcrash has my thirsty sci-fi craving mind been deluged with so many fantastically interesting technology spawned drama. From "cortical stacks" (devices that sit at the base of the brain stem and record the exact neural map of their host serving as a de-facto redundant brain) to "re-sleeving" (the process of transferring the stack to a new body); from "hypercasting" (speed of light transmission of consciousness from on point to another for re-sleeving) to the "virtuals" (AI governed simulations that serve every purpose, from entertainment to torture and interrogation - all at a subjective speed of their choice...5 minutes could equal 1 year, 100 years could equal 5 minutes...not fun when someone who wants the truth out of you decides to use fire and pliers at 1,000,000X slower than real-time).
At this day in age it's difficult for an author to spawn un-heard-of concepts, however, Richard K. Morgan gives life to theoretical possibility and stitches it into thrilling drama as good as any author today. Consider this is his second (after Altered Carbon) published book; we have reason to celebrate the arrival of a major force in the Sci-Fi scene. There is no doubt in my mind that this (still relatively obscure) author will be popularly regarded as one of the best in the genre in coming years.
So, with that glowing preface, a bit about the book. I guess there are two principle ways I could consider its value...first, in contrast to his first work, Altered Carbon; second, to other contemporary Sci-Fi.
To the first, in contrast with Altered Carbon, a book I regarded at reading as the best since Snowcrash, I consider Broken Angels a better work. In my opinion, Morgan's creative capacity for description has matured (from extraordinary to brilliant). As an amatuer writer, voracious reader, and semi-experienced reviewer, it's none to common to find an author in this genre that can combine high-minded scientific concepts with delicious prose.
Altered Carbon had Takeshi Kovacs serving as a mercenary detective working for a "victim" of a suicide that (when revived) couldn't buy the explanation of the police as to the motive of his suicide. A brilliant and fantastic work. Broken Angels centers Takeshi in a much broader and complex environment. Acting as a warrior-for-hire in a massive struggle to put down a planetary revolt, Takeshi is pulled into even higher drama when he is coerced into a close-knit consipiracy to lay claim to an ancient (Martian) spacecraft; the archeological find of several lifetimes.
In terms of how this novel matches up to others, as indicated at the start of this review, not since Stephenson has an author been able to "put so many conceptual balls in the air" and still maintain a cohesive, entertaining, and rich reading experience.
Without giving much away, the sophistication and abundance of Takeshi's adversaries; from hyper-evolving nanotech weapons, nuke-lobbing Rebel forces, Interplanetary governments, and even his own crew; keep you turning the pages like you've been poisoned and the next page has the antidote...However, it's not just carnage, quite the opposite, Broken Angels is rich in social commentary and philosophical perspective. From the effects of semi-immortality on individual perspective to this novels exploration of "Martian culture" and the mysterious evidence of alien civilization left behind, ideas and fascinating considerations abound...
So much FUN!
I deliberately saved this review until my 100th for amazon. Call me sentimental, but this book is such a treasure to me.
If you haven't read Altered Carbon, I'd recommend reading that first. I don't consider that necessary, but I do believe reading AC and being exposed to allot of the jargon and technical terms of the series will permit a richer experience in Broken Angels.
Anyway, I hope this review was helpful.
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18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on September 21, 2005
Broken Angels is the story of a combat zone. If you think that the carnage described with-in it is some type of ridiculous distortion (as some reviewers seem to think) of real life in war, then you may need to read up on your military non-fiction. Try Dispatches, by Herr or for something closer to our current era check out Black Hawk Down, by Bowden. These are not Sci-Fi but display a lack of humanity in war that rivals anything in Broken Angels.

Do not make the mistake of thinking Broken Angels is glamorizing war. It merely shows it for what it is and always will be- young and old, men and women, solders and civilians dying for no other reason than the whims of the ruling class, for profit and power.

Finally, for any reviewer opining on how Morgan's writing is so violent and sexual; let me remind you that shows like 24 and Desperate Housewives are not about math and baking cookies. Whether you realize it or not, sex and violence are just as popular in the Blue states as in the Red. What I'm getting at is, at least in Broken Angels the writing is somewhat erudite with some form of intelligent dialogue on the nature of war, and the violence illustrated in the book makes you sick and angry (as it should). The stuff on television has no such qualms. Its only purpose is to get you to tune in next week.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Morgan came out of nowhere in 2002 with _Altered Carbon_, the first novel about Takeshi Kovacs, overstressed, dangerously empathic diplomat/soldier trying to stay alive (more or less) four centuries into a future in which the mind lives in a bit of metal housed at the top of the spine and can be re-installed in any convenient "sleeve." This time out, a disgusted Kovacs is recruited by a deserter from the other side to set up an expedition to check out a major find left by the long-disappeared Martians -- who are the only reason humans are out in space to begin with. It's a quest tale, and a very good one, but the real pleasure, for me, is in the author's masterful portrayal and development of the characters. You don't necessarily have to like Kovacs, and you certainly wouldn't feel comfortable around him, but after two excellent novels, you would probably begin to understand him. There's some great quotable passages here, too, about the nature of war, and government, and loyalty, and the human situation in the universe. If _Broken Angels_ doesn't win the Hugo or the Nebula, or both, there is no justice. But, then, Kovacs knows that already.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
I read Altered Carbon, and found Morgan's style impressive. When I bought this book, I was hoping for more of the same. But I was disappointed in the end.

The only thing that is the same is the level of graphic violence - VERY high. This is not a story for the faint of heart.

I was simply not happy with this novel. Some of the suspenseful areas seemed overly contrived. There was a little excitement in the story, but nowhere near enough to keep me interested.

The biggest problem is that it seemed to be severely lacking in logic. I kept telling myself "you've GOT to be kidding - this is ridiculous - they can't keep doing this!"
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on April 5, 2004
Some background:
I have been reading SF (or whatever it's called these days) since the mid 1960s. I was an early fan of Phillip K. Dick (before Hollywood discovered him) and am also a fan of Neil Stephenson and others who explore future utopias/dystopias from a human perspective.
Yes, these books are usually written from a relatively young male perspective, but let's face it, the women in this field that could create believable characters are mostly writing about faeries, vampires, dragons and Gaea. I've just spent a disappointing couple of hours with Laurell Hamilton, and wish I could wash my mind out with detergent. Feel free to cite the one or two exceptions when you flame me. They're mostly out of print right now.
I stumbled upon Morgan's first book and have read both of them (Altered Carbon and Broken Angels) within the last week. They're really good on the things that count:
First, the characterization is generally very good, although not excellent -- call it 2.75 dimensional. To those complaining about the inclusion of love interests and episodes, well, get over it. Most post pubescent humans have some kind of sexuality as part of their every day life and those that don't or don't have any interest in the subject are an unusual and small minority.
Second, the plot line is multithreaded and well paced. Writing is generally skilful (although sometimes the descriptions of some events or things could use some more clarity).
Third, the philosophical content and sketching out of future reality generally passes the laugh test (i.e. the society in which the books are set is not an improbable, absurd or ideological rendering of reality) and is interesting and thought provoking.
Conclusion: Well worth buying, reading and re-reading. If this guy really is a new writer (and not writing under a pseudonym), I expect very good things from him in future novels.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on February 23, 2009
I bought this after I read (and loved) Altered Carbon. Unfortunately, this book failed to live up to my expectations. It took me probably six months to read it (anytime I start a book, I refuse to NOT finish it, even if it is torture).

Part of what I loved about Altered Carbon was the story's similarity to Raymond Chandler or Dashiel Hammet novels: it read like a hard-boiled noir detective story, but with ultra-cool sci-fi technology. Broken Angels did not read like that, unfortunately. The sci-fi stuff was there, but the story was not. Instead of a mystery, this novel is more of an adventure.

In this novel, Kovacs is recruited by a soldier to help him uncover a martian artifact that happens to be a teleportation gate. Through the gate is a long-dead martian ship orbiting the system's sun. Kovacs in turn gets an archaeologist, Big Business, and a crew of uber-warriors to help them.

Unlike Altered Carbon, the plot does not pull you along. The characters seem to spend an inordinate amount of time on a beach trying to open the gate. That whole sequence was incredibly boring. At the conclusion of many chapters, I just did not care what happened next. The plot almost picked up when they finally reached the martian ship, and I was hoping for a "Rendezvous with Rama" type of exploration of the ship. It started out that way, but it was just a tease. The ship is never explored to as deep a level as I was hoping.

And the ending is just plain terrible, and really makes very little sense. Morgan never explains why Kovacs decides to wipe out the people he wipes out. And it is so ridiculous, it really needs some sort of explanation. Unfortunately, I don't think one was given because there really is no reason; Kovacs just randomly chooses one group of mercenary friends over another.

All-in-all, it was a disappointing book. I was so happy to finally finish it so I could read something halfway decent.

I'd say it was less than half as good as Altered Carbon. So I divided the 5 stars I gave Altered Carbon by 2, and rounded down, to 2 stars.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on April 16, 2009
As someone who found Altered Carbon largely refreshing and innovative, I felt that Broken Angels exceeded the bounds of credibility and emotional identification far too often. Morgan tries very hard to offer a critical exposition of the brutal inhumanities of war, but he reduces his protagonist to a detached and cynical killing machine whose powers are more closely aligned to those of dark comic book heroes than to real people.

If you combined Batman's brilliant sleuthing abilities and familiarity with high-tech hardware, Wolverine's berserker combat rage and virtual indestructibility, and Spiderman's heightened senses and sarcastic humor, you'd still not quite reach the level of hyperbolic capabilities that Takeshi Kovacs possesses. He's an Envoy--a kind of genetically-enhanced super-soldier--and Morgan never tires of belaboring that point.

Other characters hardly fare better. We've got a brutally heartless power executive, a scornfully shallow mercenary pilot, a cadre of resurrected special-ops soldiers with only two or three distinguishable personalities, and a gifted yet bitter "archeologue" who withholds a number of dark secrets. This last character, Tanya Wardani, seems to be Morgan's attempt to provide a more human and empathetic representative for his readers to cling to in his seethingly savage universe of chaos--but...well, for me (and for the sake of keeping this review spoiler-free), she was inadequate.

I really wanted to enjoy this novel, for it does have some intriguing themes about the infantility of self-destructive human aspirations set against the haunting backdrop of the advanced (yet long departed) Martian race. However, Morgan (and by extension, his characters) is way too cynical to give his audience any real reprieve from his harsh, unforgiving world. What's the use of his expose of the human condition without a bridge to connect his characters to the reader? By characterizing Takeshi Kovacs as a detached, brutal know-it-all who kills indiscriminately, he comes off as little more than a jerk, to put it mildly. Who can we identify with? Who can we trust?

Perhaps that is part of Morgan's intention--since Kovacs trusts no one either. But, to me, it's not a good way to sell novels, Hollywood offers notwithstanding.
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