|publisher||Del Rey (US)|
|summary||A future beyond death, through personality transplantation.|
It would be easy to describe this book as "cyberpunk meets noir," but that would be a disservice to the reader, the author and the book.
Although this book is set in a future that is seems to be heavily influenced by the punk movement, with computers, hackers, weapons, and leather, this is no superficial, cartoon world setting for a quick romp through cyberspace. There is a depth and texture here that promises, and delivers, as a setting for a novel that could end up as influential as Vinge's True Names, or Stephenson's Snow Crash or Spillane's Mike Hammer.
The main technological trapping of this setting is the ability to digitize, store and transport human consciousness. Peoples' consciousnesses can, and are, digitized and loaded out of and into their bodies on a regular basis. The state uses this to punish criminals by storing their minds "in the stack" (digital prison) and the wealthy and powerful can have themselves "backed up" like yesterday's spreadsheets. Interstellar travel is via "digitized human freight." Human bodies ("sleeves") can be rented, bought and sold, to provide containers for these digitized minds. And this is just the background.
This is also a hardboiled detective thriller, easily the equal to Chandler or Hammett in both plot and characterization. There is a complex plot, the de rigueur dames and guns, but also some important themes that are surprising for the genre. The plot is never formulaic, with a depth and enough unexpected twists and turns to keep the reader guessing well into the last chapter.
The protagonist, Takeshi Kovacs, is no simple hardboiled detective; he's a cashiered UN "Envoy," qualified to do anything from holding a beach head or planning a military invasion, to taking over a government from within. People with this training are barred from public office and high government positions on most settled worlds. And Kovacs has been offered a job he can't refuse by one of the richest men in twenty planets: "Kovacs, find out who killed me."
On a deeper level, this novel asks some real hard questions, that get to the heart of what it means to be human. If you can digitize, back up and restore people, what is the meaning of death? Is the "soul" digitized, or just your memories? Does it matter? When bodies can be rented and exchanged, just what is "identity"? When people can buy new bodies and live for centuries, amassing power and wealth, how will that affect their humanity? Will they become more than human, or less? How will this effect human society? These issues are all raised subtly, this is no sermonizing sociology text masquerading as a novel.
But Morgan's novel remains at its heart a well-crafted detective story. No matter how corrupt the society, no matter how powerful the rich, in the end, justice comes from the smoking barrel of a hired gun, working for some fast cash, plus expenses. This books tries, and succeeds, on so many levels, that can only hope that this will be just the first novel from this new author. Somewhere, Chandler and Hammett are saying, "Ya' done good, kid. Now kiss the dame and get outta here."
(As I was finishing this review, I discovered that Morgan's second novel, Broken Angels, which continues Kovacs exploits, has just been published by Gollancz in the UK. I'll gladly pay international shipping to get my hands on this second book as soon as possible.)
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