This high science fiction novel about transhumanism takes place in a setting 30 years after the events that take place in Richard Morgan’s book Altered Carbon and follows the same anti-hero protagonist Takeshi Kovacs. Broken Angels maintains the same military-grade science fiction plot by throwing Kovacs into a mercenary job on a war-torn planet but also begins to include the Martians—a long extinct progenitor race that once apparently colonized Mars—as hinted at in the previous book.
At the start of the novel, Kovacs is working with a mercenary crew as part of some corporate warfare; essentially returned to his own element acting as a solider and military commander fighting in a drawn-out war on some forgotten dust ball for credits and glory. During a transition out of death (as the technology of altered carbon allows personalities to be grabbed from slain bodies and put into a new one) Kovacs is approached by a client interested in his services as a mercenary commander.
The job is a weird one and it involves Martain technology that is thought to be active.
This book differs a bit from Altered Carbon as it begins to tell the story of the Martian colonization of the galaxy from an archaeological view, but it does so dumbed-down through the military mind of Kovacs and his experience with the legends and stories of discoveries related to the xenoarchaeology of the long-lost species. It makes for a very intriguing examination of how humanity might interact with a lost-hypertech race without having them be the foundation of their ascent into space or their own takeover of the galaxy.
In many science fiction stories, lost-hypertech races often become the backbone upon which humanity rises to the stars. Not so much in Altered Carbon and Broken Angels, except where Martian hypertechnology is weaponized (or at least attempted) however it seems that most of the remnants of this ancient civilization are unintentionally hostile or entirely dormant. Add to this the fact that the artifact in question that the client wants happens to be deep within a warzone.
Thus a perfect chance for Kovacs to shine.
Back to the subject of altered carbon we also get to see how a mercenary puts together a crew from dead people. Since the altered carbon blocks that contain the sentience of people are not often destroyed when a body is killed, there’s an entire black market of people ready to be resurrected from the dead and pressed into work as a price for bringing them back to life. Kovacs using this to effect when he visits what is essentially a death merchant who happens to wear skull makeup and takes on the affect of the voodoo lwa Baron Samedi who lords over “The Soul Market.”
The expedition to the artifact brings to bear a great deal of military science fiction as a collision of transhumanism and the horrors of war. A lot of what we experienced in Altered Carbon is brought back, but this is much more along the lines of ancient-aliens and transhumans rather than the urban story of investigating a murder. As a result, it gets a weird sort of Indiana Jones meets Starship Troopers vibe that injects into the story a bit of too-much-military hardware, but I found myself remaining fascinated by the examination of the Martians technology.
Two types of readers will enjoy Broken Angels: those who really like military high science fiction with lots of hardware, commandos on a mission, and soldiers with balls-and-guts attitudes; and those who like exploratory science fiction that builds an ancient civilization of hypertech aliens to have their long-distant past unearthed via what is essentially a military-operation xenoarchaeology expedition.
Like Altered Carbon, Broken Angels doesn’t make the reader think all that hard about the implications of much of the technology except for how it directly impacts the characters, galactic war, and other elements of human society; however, the interesting and weird society and ruins of the Martians leave yet another interesting insight into how humanity might view the truly alien.
One facet of Martian society that I truthfully enjoyed what the discovery that Mars wasn’t the center of their empire—as it turned out Martians always map from their current location making that the “center” of everything. More weird insights into what makes the Martians tick and why they’re not really “Martians” after all come out in this book alongside a deeper look into how the human psyche changes when it can be separated from a body via the application of altered carbon.