(1965- ) British author who began publishing work of genre interest with Altered Carbon (2002) as by Richard K Morgan; the middle initial also appears on US reprints. Altered Carbon was the first of a three-volume sequence featuring the mercenary/detective Takeshi Kovacs, subsequent books being Broken Angels (2003) and Woken Furies (2005). The setting of the Kovacs sequence is a United Nations-supervised group of planets whose economy is dominated by the availability of a costly form of potential Immortality: a personality can be recorded and "resleeved" in a new body (see Identity Transfer). Kovacs's adventures involve a great deal of violence, depicted with a degree of detail most often associated with Horror. Their settings, however, owe much to the information-dense vocabulary established for sf by Cyberpunk. Morgan's command of narrative drive visibly strengthens as the sequence goes along, though all the books have considerable momentum. Altered Carbon won the Philip K Dick Award. It was produced for Television as Altered Carbon (18 60-minute episodes; from 2 February 2018 Netflix), with further seasons commissioned.
Perhaps the distinguishing feature of Morgan's work is the strength of its Political anger, for which only a few authors in the field such as Joanna Russ or Harlan Ellison can rival him. (The naming of Kovacs's home planet as "Harlan's World" may not be an accident.) In his work, the violence inflicted on those who do not control the world is no more than a continuation of capitalism by other means. His frequent depiction of War is just one instance of this (see Military SF). The Near-Future singleton Market Forces (2004), as its name suggests, makes these arguments very visible. In its mid-twenty-first century, the competition between corporations is overt and involves literal violence in the streets – such as road duels, which may be fatal, between executives driving fast cars on Britain's abandoned motorways (see Transportation). For Morgan, a world that depends on unmediated survival of the fittest is a grim Dystopia, and one that we are heading rapidly towards. Market Forces won the John W Campbell Memorial Award.
Morgan's strongest work to date is arguably Black Man (2007; vt Thirteen 2007), which won the Arthur C Clarke Award. Set in a near-future North America, it is a savagely revisionist take on the Superman theme. Its protagonist, Carl Marsalis, is a genetically altered (see Genetic Engineering) soldier sent to capture another of his kind who has escaped from a Martian colony. Although anchored, as with other Morgan novels, to a crime/thriller plot, Black Man takes in a great deal more: questions of Gender, Race, the future of the US, and what society can do with those whom it has trained for violence. Thin Air (2018) is set in a complexly envisioned Near Future Mars, into which is inserted another competent action storyline.
Morgan's second series, the Land Fit for Heroes sequence beginning with The Steel Remains (2008), is couched as Fantasy. There are strong hints, though not yet definitive, that the world on which the action takes place may actually exist in a science-fictional frame, and that the mysterious Machines falling from space into the land may not be magic at all. The affect of The Steel Remains is very different from Morgan's previous works: a world-defining war has taken place before the book begins, so that much of the action seems belated amidst the ruins. This affect is if anything intensified in the sequels, The Cold Commands (2011) and The Dark Defiles (2014). [GS]
see also: Torture.
Richard Kingsley Morgan
born London: 24 September 1965
Land Fit for Heroes
- The Steel Remains (London: Gollancz, 2008) [Land Fit for Heroes: hb/uncredited]
- The Cold Commands (London: Gollancz, 2011) [title changed in production from The Dark Commands: Land Fit for Heroes: hb/Jon Sullivan]
- The Dark Defiles (New York: Del Rey, 2014) [Land Fit for Heroes: hb/Stephen Youll]
- Market Forces (London: Gollancz, 2004) [hb/]
- Black Man (London: Gollancz, 2007) [hb/photographic]
- Thirteen (New York: Ballantine Books/Del Rey, 2007) [vt of the above: hb/David Stevenson]
- Thin Air (London: Gollancz, 2018) [hb/Christian McGrath]
Previous versions of this entry