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Book Review: Woken Furies

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Woken Furies is a warped, twisted, cyberpunk mind-trip of a novel, a frenetic, kinetic amalgamation of politics, noir, cyberpunk and more, all churned by author Richard Morgan like a guy who tosses everything in the blender and doesn’t lower the tempo until everything is completely juiced.

This is the third of Morgan’s novels to feature Takeshi Kovacs, an interstellar assassin and mercenary of the far future whose consciousness is capable of being transferred from one body (or “sleeve”) to another. Basically, in Morgan’s vision, in the future one’s mental “self” is housed in a cerebral “stack” which can be removed when one’s physical body dies and simply inserted into another “sleeve.” It is an intriguing interpretation of the notion of a division between mind and body; here, the consciousness remains paramount, and the physical body is little more than a change of clothes (albeit perhaps a bit more important – one’s sleeve can be capable of a variety of things depending upon its construction and some are more combat-ready than others). Immortality is not assured, however: destruction of one’s cerebral stack can terminate the consciousness within, and this fact ultimately serves as a significant plot point in Woken Furies.

The novel opens as Kovacs wakes. He is told that he has been awakened after a “sleep” of several centuries and is to be set on the track of an incredibly dangerous man. He’s justifiably pissed by this revelation – nobody likes playing Rip Van Winkle, and Kovacs least of all. It is only at the end of this prologue that we realize Morgan’s novel is something of a mental roller coaster ride and he’s not afraid of slamming his readers into the side of the car when he takes a turn. The first person narration suddenly twists as Kovacs (who’s narrating the story to us) suddenly tells us that he figures that’s how the meeting went, but he’s not sure. Because he wasn’t there.

You see, some unscrupulous planetary powers have managed to get their hands on an archived copy of Kovacs’ consciousness from his days with an interstellar strike force, and they’ve re-sleeved their own version of one of the galaxies’ most dangerous men. While that itself is illegal, they’ve got a problem of their own: the current version of Kovacs, the contemporary one, appears to be carrying out a one-man vendetta against them and somebody decided that the only realistic option for taking him out was to come up with their own version of Kovacs himself.

Meanwhile, Kovacs is roaming Harlan’s World wrecking vengeance upon the members of a religious sect for reasons which remain vague for much of the novel (but which Morgan explains in convincing fashion when the time is right). Despite his age and cynicism, Kovacs ends up protecting a young woman who could have another consciousness fighting for mental control of her stack – namely, the mind of a martyred revolutionary from centuries before. Kovacs balances protecting her from the leaders of his home world, along with fending off involvement from his prior military connections and the younger version of himself, all while trying to determine the best way to carry out his own personal crusade. His path is fraught with confusion and chaos, not to mention shifting allegiances and absolute betrayal.

There’s sex, there’s violence; there’s old friends becoming enemies and new friends with the potential to save – or perhaps destroy – the world. There’s philosophical musing about humanity and immortality and what it means to have your consciousness transported from sleeve to sleeve like a compact flash disc being swapped between computer systems. In the end, it’s a bit about overcoming who you were, changing who you are, and striving to be something new (yes, there might even be a redemption theme at play here). And it’s about being human when physicality is stripped away and what matters are ones memories, beliefs, and dreams. Is sci fi all about rocket ships, robots, and ray guns? Read Woken Furies and you’ll undoubtedly find out the answer; science fiction is about humanity in the crucible of technology, and ray guns are certainly optional. Morgan’s Byzantine narrative, together with its “No Manual Included” exposition and breakneck pace, dance around grand philosophical themes of what it means to be human even as the story delivers all the potent action and dystopian excitement one could hope for.

Author’s Note: This article was originally posted at Wallo World.

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