Review: Market Forces, by Richard Morgan


Gollancz, ISBN 978-0-575-08126-0

(Review first published on the ASIM website, May 2009)


Richard Morgan is a British SF/fantasy author whose work is tight, thoughtful, and frequently violent. Market Forces, first released in 2004 and now repackaged in a new paperback edition, is no exception.

Chris Faulkner is a hotshot young expert in financial management. He has a good track record courtesy of his work in emerging markets, for the firm of Hammett McColl, but he’s seeking bigger things, having just taken on a portfolio in conflict investment for Shorn Associates. Chris is confident of his skills, and knows he has what it takes to make a killing. In the circumstances, this turns out to be rather an understatement … Chris must make choices that place him in direct conflict with his wife Carla, with his mentor Mike Bryant, with Shorn executive Louise Hewitt, and with just about every other person with whom he comes into contact. And then there’s his feelings for it-girl media personality Liz Linshaw …

The world Morgan extrapolates in Market Forces is a brutal, polarised place in which the wet dream of rampant capitalism rubs up against the bloated corpse of the underclass. Probably the most striking symbolism employed to convey this point is that, in a world in which petrol prices have skyrocketed to the extent that most people cannot even dream of aspiring to owning a vehicle of their own, the executives and management figures of Chris’s cadre are entitled to drive heavily armoured sports cars, vehicles which serve triple duty as mode of transport, blatant status symbol, and weapon of choice for duelling. The drive-combat sequences in Market Forces are propulsive and gripping.

The grim reality of most people’s existence in Morgan’s future London (I don’t think the chronology is ever absolutely fixed, but the book’s events appear to be placed about fifty years in the future) is repeatedly contrasted against the priviledges and perquisites of Chris Faulkner’s own position. It’s a disparity of which Chris is necessarily acutely aware – he’s driven by a need to escape the impoverishment of his own childhood – but his reactions to the imbalance between the haves and have-nots changes markedly during the first year of his work for Shorn.

Morgan’s worldbuilding is always strong, detailed yet comparatively unobtrusive; but in some senses the future history laid out here is less completely convincing than his work in Black Man, or in the Takeshi Kovacs novels. I think this is because Market Forces juxtaposes a fairly extreme worldview with a near-future setting. It’s difficult to imagine society changing this greatly within a relatively narrow timespan, whereas the Kovacs stories, for example, are set several centuries into the future, allowing much more scope for societal evolution. But – while I can take issue with the plausibility of a society within which the rich can, with reasonable impunity, kill just about anyone who crosses them, merely for the purpose of making an example – I can at least appreciate the internal consistency of Morgan’s dystopic vision. And if the subtext sounds, and is, rather bleak, this is not a downbeat book by any stretch. It has altogether too much testosterone, too much adrenaline, too much high-octane tension for that.

I’m always a little discommoded by the violence in Morgan’s books, but I’m coming around to the feeling that, while the action sequences are certainly very graphic, they’re not gratuitous. They serve a deeper purpose, of illuminating the underlying imperfections of Morgan’s driven characters. Effectively, what you get here is a kind of Terminator/Death of a Salesman hybrid, simultaneously hard-edged and insightful. I suspect it’ll hook you; it hooked me. And you can be reasonably certain that, whatever the outcome of his climactic auto-duel, and whatever choice Faulkner is going to make, it’s going to hurt


(Review by Simon Petrie, 2009)




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