#367 - Short Book Review: Broken Angels

7 minute read

Motto: You can probably just stop reading.

This post is not for anyone. I wanted to write it, though. TL;DR - I read two books, one was good, one was not. Also - you should look to see if your local library has an app that you can get audiobooks from. Ours uses an app called Axis 360, and since I've discovered that my reading has skyrocketed. It's really really great. 

I recently read Broken Angels by Richard K. Morgan, the sequel to his first novel Altered Carbon. This Column is a review of that book... spoiler free-ish until the bold warning line. The Top 5 and quote are spoiler-free.

I came to it by way of watching the Netflix series Altered Carbon. It opened my eyes to strong scifi, which I didn't know I liked. I've always been a fan of superhero stuff, which in a way is science fiction; but I've never been more than a casual fan of Star Wars, and I find Star Trek pretty unapproachable on the whole. 

Altered Carbon introduces a couple of pieces of new technology, and then sets the story in a world that deals with their implications. Those pieces of tech mostly boil down to the ability to digitize human consciousness & put into a little storage chip. This chip can be implanted into an unoccupied body, and suddenly the person on the chip now is alive again with a new body. This is the main concept of this world. There are a few other developments, such as human-like Androids, cybernetic enhancements, and a mode of faster-than-light travel capable of sending small payloads incredible distances by slipping into some dimension we can't perceive. Also there's mention that aliens exist and have surpassed our technology millennia ago, but for the most part aren't around anymore from what we can tell. That bit doesn't get much traction, though. Again, the main concept is the ability to pull the mind/consciousness/soul out of the body and the ability to make copies of it.

Both Altered Carbon and Broken Angels follow the life of Takeshi Kovacs, a former member of an elite Navy SEAL/Green Beret-like fighting force called "Envoys". Takeshi's Envoy life is only a pretext to these novels. Neither of them take place during span of time.

Altered Carbon is a story where Takeshi Kovacs is brought back to life in a new body on a planet he'd never been to before (Earth), to solve a murder mystery of an extremely powerful 400+ year old man. The man who hired him was the man who was murdered. He was brought back to life via a remote backup of his consciousness & clone of his body. The story is about Takeshi figuring out who killed the man. It's entertaining. It's interesting. The show and the book are similar enough to say if you've experienced one there's not much reason to experience the other. I enjoyed them both and I'm glad I watched and read them, respectively. 

Given the fact they are making a second season of the show I liked, I figured it might be fun to read the second novel in the trilogy before the show came out before I watched The Falcon take over for Rick Flag.

Broken Angels takes place 30 years after Altered Carbon, but that doesn't really matter. Takeshi Kovacs is in a new body, but that doesn't really matter. Without getting into spoilers (yet) the story takes place during a war being fought with great corporate influence on a remote planet. Takeshi is told about a great archaeological discovery, and enlists to go help recover the discovery in the name of one of these corporations. That's the basic story.

I would go so far as to say that's almost the whole story, though. 

Nothing happens in this book. Not really, at least.

The things that DO happen seem dull and unimportant. There are scenes in the book that seem like they were put there just to tick a box saying "yep we have that now", but have no implications to the overall plot.

It's weird because I like the setting so much. I like the style. I like the main character. I like the world they're in. I like the little details here and there... I just don't think it was a good story.

It was like if a bad script was given to a good screenwriter. Stepping back from the pages to look at the overarching narrative... it's just boring. I got 3/4ths the way through the book before I realized what I was reading just WAS the book, and not a setup for the book yet-to-come. I can't say much more without getting into spoilers, which I do briefly want to talk about.

I hate to say I can't recommend Broken Angels to anyone. Reading reviews online, I'm not in the majority... but I do agree with the one other person I know in real life who read the book. It's just... not great. See the Top 5 for some GOOD things about it.


Alight. So specifically, here's THE entire book, boiled down into a ~3 minute read.

Takeshi Kovacs is fighting as a mercenary on a planet he has no ties to in a war he doesn't really care about. Some guy he once knew tells him about an archaeological discovery of a Martian portal that leads into deep space, where there's a Martian spaceship, full of Martian tech. Takeshi goes AWOL from the war, rescues an archaeologist who opened the portal before, and teams up with a dude from one of the corporations so he can hire a band of (now dead) soldiers to help him go dig up the site. At this point we're about a quarter into the book.

They go to the site. The archaeologist spends the second and third quarters of the book trying to open a portal while everyone else just sort of waits around. SOME things happen, but none of them are really of any consequence.
A nuclear weapon goes off in a nearby city... but we don't have any connection to that city and the bomb's effects are mostly just a slow radiation poisoning of everyone.
A grey mass of nanotech weaponry is discovered... but it's mostly inert.
Some dead bodies are discovered... but who cares because an A-bomb just went off so of course there are dead people around.
This half of the book sandwiched in between the first and final quarters is incredibly boring and slow.

The last quarter of the book they open the portal and go through it. They then do a chapter's worth of exploration around the Martian ship, which was cool. The ship has a sort of self-defense mechanism that makes people want to kill themselves, Bird Box-style. Takeshi knocks most people out before they kill themselves. The merry band is rescued by Takeshi's old war troupe... but they decide they want to torture to death one of Takeshi's new friends. For some reason Takeshi decides this isn't cool and decides to kill literally 100+ military elite soldiers in span of about 3 underwhelming pages.

That seems like the end of the book. But then there's a chapter at the end that is reminiscent of the "HERE'S WHAT WAS GOING ON THE WHOLE TIME!" chapter in Harry Potter and Prisoner of Azkaban... but the loose ends it ties up were all so uninteresting I forgot they even happened. Basically we find out the archaeologist realized killed everyone in her first expedition to the site after she realized the Martian ship was a war ship and the weapons tech on it would be used to create new superweapons. Takeshi realizes it right at the end, and decides "meh who cares." I couldn't agree more. That's the book.

There are almost no new concepts introduced in this book. The only ones I can think of are the portal to outerspace... but they already have faster-than-light travel for small things. So that doesn't seem significant. Also the nanotech weaponry... but it doesn't do anything in the book aside from being vaguely threatening.

Very underwhelming.

Top 5: Things I DID appreciate about Broken Angels
5. The book is very different from its predecessor. We aren't getting a Dan Brown same-novel-every-time-but-with-different-details situation.
4. I still like the world-building. 
3. I still like Takeshi as a character.
2. ...
1. ... :-(

"We want to be healthy, but we like doughnuts more."
- Former chess world champion Garry Kasparov, in his book "Deep Thinking", which I'm reading now -