Paperback: 576 pages
Publisher: Gollancz (5 Sep 2005)
Richard Morgan is still relatively new to the British SF scene, but this is the third of his novels about Takeshi Kovacs. This one is fairly standalone, though it does help if you've read the preceding two, for the milieu.
In the future, mankind has spread out over many planets, and has solved the problem of uploading and downloading minds into bodies - this is known as sleeving - so that (unless you belong to one of the more extreme religious sects) death isn't necessarily permanent - a small canister at the base of your skull is constantly backing your brain up, ready for re-installation. But humans are ingenious, and permanent death is possible: just lose or destroy the cortical stack, and that's you gone for good. And of course, it's theoretically possible to 'double-sleeve', i.e. put the same mind in more than one body, though that is a capital offence.
Kovacs is, or rather was, an Envoy: an extremely ruthless and very effective agent for the Protectorate, the organisation that keeps interstellar peace, and which frequently intervenes in order to prevent uprisings and the like. But he's retired and found himself a hobby - collecting the cortical stacks of 'Beards', a faction of religious extremists who suppress women and who have deliberately disposed of the cortical stacks of a woman. whom Kovacs still loved, and of the woman's daughter, by throwing them overboard from a ship. Kovacs' vengeance has aroused some ire, and now someone has double-sleeved him (using a copy from two centuries earlier) and sent the copy out to kill him.
And then, he encounters what may be the re-sleeving of the most famous revolutionary of all.
This one is as fast paced as Morgan's previous novels. Although the best part of 600 pages, it doesn't seem to have any spare padding at all. Kovacs is a demon of vengeance, and thought he does some things because of friendship, it's not till the end that he finally softens. And that softening has a valid cause.
Oh, there's a lot of death. Some of it temporary, some of it permanent. Just because a character is shown to be likeable, that's no guarantee that they'll survive - this provides a lot of the tension (and, it must be admitted, a lot of the length: the death of anonymous cannon fodder isn't as saddening as the death of someone whom you've got to know).
Tense and gripping, but not for the squeamish.