Sunday, August 2, 2009
Imagine a world where corporate interests outstrip government. Where executives are celebrities. Where the division between the poor and the rich, the haves and have-nots, is enforced by law, and walls, and an economic standard soaked in blood. A world where executives compete with one another - for promotions, to win contracts, to settle disputes - via murderous road rage in specially designed and armored "battle-wagons". This is the world of Richard K. Morgan's "Market Forces", a character driven science fiction thriller set in the near, and all too believable, future of late 2040's London.
Market Forces protagonist (hero would be the wrong word) Chris Faulkner is an up and coming executive, or "driver" as he is one of the select few who can both afford to drive and are among the ranks of road-rage competing corporate agents. Faulkner, at the book's opening, has just been drafted into the ranks of Shorn Associates, Conflict Investment division. Riding on his work at a previous firm's Emerging Markets division, and the highly controversial yet celebrated kill on the road that won him that position, Faulkner meets immediate challenge. His coworkers and the partners at Shorn are far more bloodthirsty than Faulkner believes necessary, demanding that every roadway dual end in a positive kill. Faulkner is able to deliver extreme violence, as in his celebrated kill in which he ran over his competitor five times, but comes to Shorn with a preference for less bloodthirsty business approaches. This puts him at odds with other Shorn executives; Rivalries which only become worse when he proves successful in the division.
Conflict Investment is no nice thing – It is investment in, and guidance of, small wars for maximum profit. Shorn Associates is as bloodthirsty and greedy here as anywhere, and it pays. Conflict Investment is a money-maker, and success in the field means great gains, recognition and advancement for Faulkner. Being less bloodthirsty still does not give Faulkner clean hands, and as the pressure mounts, he becomes more and more blood-soaked. And he likes it – Every victory, every risk won out, is validation for the way he does business, and the ideals he brings to the game.
At the same time, it is his idealism that runs him aground. Faulkner is no mindless greed driven power player. He's come from the very bottom to get to where he is, and has built the beginnings of a good life. His wife, Carla, is a loving and kind force in his life, always encouraging the best of him. She holds him to be the better man, and not succumb to the sheer greed and immorality of his work.
As Faulkner rises to the top in the most cut-throat area of a cut-throat world, his professional drive and personal conscience conflict more and more. As he struggles with these disparate halves of himself and his life he is forced (or forces himself) into a decision between two paths, one of harmony in his family, and one of unbridled success.
Market Forces channels American Psycho with a Road Warrior ethic and a Dogs of War sensibility. The world created by Richard Morgan for his corporate samurai is one of merciless competition, bloody corporate affairs, unabashed profiteering, riding on a current of warfare and class oppression. In short, Morgan writes a world that, while exaggerated, doesn't seem too impossible or even too far off. In examining this potential future what the reader must ask themselves is if that is a good thing, and what role they want to play. These are the questions that are at the heart of the novel, driving its biting political dialog and fast paced action alike. The choices faced by Faulkner and those surrounding him are more than political, or monetary: Their very lives are at stake on the physical, moral and even human scale.
Market Forces is not an uplifting read. Faulkner is a great anti-hero, and is surrounded by similarly flawed individuals and their mistakes. Very few of these characters are merely two-dimensional, as Morgan is unafraid to delve into the vulgar depths of personality. These are very human people, and will force the reader into uncomfortable territory. At times it is like being in the room while your friend and his wife have a screaming argument. All you can do is watch as people you want to care about debase themselves and one another, screaming themselves into the deafening silence of mutually assured destruction.
Yet while not an uplifting read, it is a fundamentally good read. Morgan's characters resonate with that level of richness throughout, flowing effortlessly with the tautly woven story. Market Force is a book that draws you in, each page pulling you deeper into the quagmire of morality, violence and lust that consumes its characters. It will leave you breathless, and with the sensation that you may be accomplice to something awful, yet wanting more. A unique and masterful work of speculative fiction, Market Forces is a must read.