20 August, 2009

Collected Works: Richard K. Morgan

A new feature of the blog that I have been playing with for a while is going to be author pages, and its hot off the press, so bare with my while I iron the kinks out. I will post these only once I have read all of an authors work, as is the case with Richard (K.) Morgan. The purpose of the author post is two fold. First, it helps you, as a reader, find relevant material quickly and easily. Second, given that I have read all the author's published material, it is a great occasion for me to express my thoughts on how she has progressed, how the author's style has evolved (or not), and illustrate any major shifts that have occurred.

In the case of Mr. Morgan, I feel that this will be a genuinely interesting endeavor, as I have read all of his book in a fairly short period of time, and believe myself to be keenly aware of what he has tried to achieve as an author. I will rely not just on my own understanding of his works, but on everything that is out there. As such, these posts will be a bit longer than most, but also more detailed and researched. If you have any suggestions on anything that you think would add value to this humble endeavor, let me know.

Let us begin.

Published Works of Richard K. Morgan

Takeshi Kovacs novels:
Altered Carbon (2002)
Broken Angels (2003)
Woken Furies (2005)

Standalone novels:
Market Forces (2004)
Thirteen / Black Man (2007)

A Land Fit for Heroes series:
The Steel Remains (2008)
The Dark Commands (forthcoming, 2010)

Graphic Novels:
Black Widow: Homecoming (2005)
Black Widow: The Things They Say About Her (2006)

Vision and Veracity: Beyond the Singularity

Mr. Morgan likes to "draw out the current cultural tendencies and extrapolate," but his vision of current trends can be downright pessimistic, and even fatalistic.1 These undertones of despair often lead to characterizations of his work as noir and dystopian. The great irony to me is that for a man who sees so little hope in the future for humankind, his characters are unerringly righteous, however much they try to hide it. The tension that Mr. Morgan creates between the bleakness of his future reality and the almost tangible determination of his protagonists is what gives his oeuvre such supercharged momentum.

As an author, Mr. Morgan also cultures a highly personal relationship with his characters, fighting for months on end to make sure that they are doing what they want to do, and often throwing publishing deadlines to the wind because of it.2 He admits that his work is character driven, and one would be hard pressed to prove otherwise. And yet, Mr. Morgan also delves deeply into the philosophical and economic by creating highly structured worlds that are governed by exaggerated, yet plausible, socio-economic trends. From the extreme fringe of corporate capitalism in Market Forces to an imperial theocracy in The Steel Remains, Morgan grabs the dark edge of our way of life and proceeds to cut as deep as he can.

Now, it is difficult to judge whether Mr. Morgan takes some of his predictions to heart, as is the case with many authors, or whether they are only entertaining and fanciful visions of the future--although a bibliography heavy in political-economy at the end of Market Forces might shed some light on the question. Additionally, his thoughtful take on the future of marketing3 contrasts sharply with his flippant sense of humor when he links to Cocaine.org from his website.4 One constant is that Mr. Morgan remains as candid as ever, and that he is ruthlessly honest with both himself and his audience. In a refreshingly revealing interview in 2008 with I09, the author holds back few punches, if any.5

As hinted at previously, Richard Morgan's trademark is "high octane" character driven action. In my first review of his writing, Altered Carbon, I wrote that "the book is so gritty, so in your face that it actually hurts. I'm not even talking about the torture scenes -- just the gratuitous violence sequences are enough to make you clench your teeth and give you a sore jaw."6 Far from exaggerating, I probably understated how reading the book made me react; rarely have I had such a visceral physical reaction to the written word. In retrospect, I imagine that the tone of the novel is hammered out in the preface, in which the protagonist is murdered; the reader then follows Takeshi Kovacs along in a lucid post-traumatic stress disorder induced hallucination.

Continued next week in Part II.


1. Pat's Fantasy Hotlist collaborative interview with Richard Morgan.
2. "My characters all ended up where I wanted them to be, they bedded down into the consequences and outcomes of what they'd seen and done with the pleasing clunk of emotional deadbolts falling into place - so rolling them all out of bed again, splashing water on their faces and getting them to open up and let in the morning light has proved a lot more problematic than I'd expected. I started at least twice and then had to tear up what I'd written because it was some weak-assed shit." From Oz and the Dark Delays, on Richard Morgan's website.
3. In What's in the Bottle, Mr. Morgan lays out, Minority Report style, the future of advertising.
4. Morgan's link page sending some love to Cocaine.org. Highly informative I might add.
5. Richard K. Morgan on the Failures of Capitalism and the Success of Science Fiction, over at I09.
6. My review of Altered Carbon. Go easy on me, the blog was fairly new back then.


ediFanoB said...

Kudos! Excellent post. Clearly structured, informative, fluently to read and enriched with footnotes. This is a quality post.I'm impressed.
At least I read one book by Richard K. Morgan: The Steel Remains. It has been a strong and dark read.

I didn't read all works of one author. And I'm not sure that this will happen in near future.