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May 2016

The Bellinghman
Date: 2008-11-09 23:30
Subject: #302 Richard Morgan: The Steel Remains
Security: Public
Tags:books, reviews
Richard Morgan: The Steel Remains

Hardcover: 352 pages
Publisher: Gollancz (7 Aug 2008)
ISBN-10: 0575077921
ISBN-13: 978-0575077928
Category(ies): Fantasy

Morgan has best been known up till now for his ultra-violent SF. As a writer, he writes with an unusual intensity that not only includes explicit sex and violence, but that also brings a world sharper into focus than most manage in twice the length. In this, which is to the best of my knowledge his first work that could be classed as fantasy, the very first page is enough to let you know where one character, Ringil, is at.

Indeed, I'd recommend that first page as an object lesson in how to introduce a character, and a world.

This is an odd form of high fantasy. In the back-story is the battle of Gallows Gap, wherein the human world (and some not-quite-human allies) avoided being overrun by the Lizard Men. But it's now years later, and the heroes of that battle are dispersed, and their moral credit has just about expired. But the three main characters - former city-dweller Ringil, plains barbarian Egar Dragonbane, and the half-human Archeth turn out to have one more task to complete. It seems a new threat, the mysterious and invincible Dwenda, has appeared, and the Gods are now moving their former pieces into place to try to defeat them.

Well, that's pretty solid fantasy, perhaps David Gemmell, and a lot of this is reminiscent of Gemmell. But how fantasy it is is another matter. The Dwenda, when encountered, are initially unstoppable. They're like Elves - but the dark tradition of Elves (or perhaps how Tolkien's Orcs would have seen them) makes them terrifying creatures. However, you get the impression that much of the apparent way that things work could be explicable, and that Morgan just doesn't explain them, rather than them actually being magic. Certainly, some elements are science-fictional, and most of the fantasy feel is due to the overall lack of technology (excepting the unexplained fire ships and the like) rather than the presence of magic. Even the dragon is years in the past, so we don't know what it might have been.

This, with a decadent emperor who isn't incompetent (though Archeth really dislikes him anyway - and he's distinctly dangerous), brings a different feel to things. With the sex scenes being (so far as I noticed) almost entirely male-male gay ones, and a brutal hardness to the plot (the faded veteran will fail and die), this is not your usual Extruded Fantasy Product. The story twists and writhes, and if there are any plot coupons, the protagonists do a lousy job of tracking them down. At times, it feels like there's a trilogy trapped in here, trying to get out. Recommended, if you're not squeamish.
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Angelic Eye for the Gendered-Species Individual: wilde thing
User: rysmiel
Date: 2008-11-11 19:30 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:wilde thing
Do you think that a reader who was becoming bored with the general same-ness of Morgan's SF, politically and philosophically, to the extent of basically not wanting to read any more of it unless it was another Takeshi Kovacs book that was doing something interesting plotwise, would find enough difference from that in this book to make reading it worthwhile ?
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The Bellinghman
User: bellinghman
Date: 2008-11-11 23:39 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
An interesting question. There are some very ambivalent attitudes at play here, and I did find the whole thing very unpredictably plotted. But if you've become irked by sameness in a writer, it's possibly something you've become sensitised to that I haven't even noticed.

Certainly, by having the whole thing placed into a semi-generic (with twists) fantasy setting, the politics are different. But different enough? Well, it's least like anything else he's done in my opinion.
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Angelic Eye for the Gendered-Species Individual: I find your lack of clue disturbing
User: rysmiel
Date: 2008-11-12 21:07 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:I find your lack of clue disturbing
Well, how much does it have of every single character being entirely out for themselves first, all power structures being inherently corrupt and focused on their own survival before and to the exclusion of any other benefits, and genetic determinism ?
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The Bellinghman
User: bellinghman
Date: 2008-11-12 21:22 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Not very much at all, I'd say.
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