Richard Morgan nails it, again

Wednesday, 22/09/2010 ≅03:39 ©brainycat

Takeshi Kovacs may be my most favorite-ist protagonist ever. He's smart, capable, cynical and completely self-absorbed. Actually, he's a lot like me. In the second book in the Takeshi series by Richard K. Morgan, we meet Takeshi about 30 years after the first book. He's working as a mercenary, leading a company of soldiers during an uprising on a planet distant from Earth.

Richard's writing inspires me, he so effortlessly drops metaphor and simile that shimmer and illuminate the story without ever falling into long, drawn out sentences or comma strings. It's very reminiscent of William Gibson's earlier works.

In this passage, Takeshi is talking to a corporate executive, Hand, that is buying a priceless alien artifact from Takeshi. They'd recently been to a bazaar and Takeshi witnessed the people there absorbed in their religion, quoting proverbs and using arcane symbols:

"Really." I leaned forward, searching his face for some trace of irony. "You believe this shit, right? I mean, seriously?"

The Mandrake exec watched me for a moment, then tipped back his head and gestured at the sky above us.

"Look at that, Kovacs. We're drinking coffee so far from Earth you have to work hard to pick out Sol in the night sky. We were carried here on a wind that blows in a dimension we cannot see or touch. Stored as dreams in the mind of a machine that thinks in a fashion so far in advance of our own brains, it might as well carry the name of God. We have been resurrected into bodies not our own, grown in a secret garden without the body of any mortal woman. These are the facts of our existence, Kovacs. How, then, are they different, or any less mystical, than the belief that there is another realm where the dead live in the company of beings so far beyond us we must call them gods?"

I looked away, oddly embarrassed by the fervor in Hand's voice. Religion is funny stuff, and it has unpredictable effects on those who use it. I stubbed out my cigarette and chose my words with care.

"Well, the difference is that the facts of our existence weren't dreamed up by a bunch of ignorant priests centuries before anyone had left the Earth's surface or built anything resembling a machine. I'd say that on balance that makes them a better fit than your spirit realm for whatever reality we find out here."

Hand smiled, apparently unoffended. He seemed to be enjoying himself. "That is a local view, Kovacs. Of course, all the remaining churches have their origins in preindustrial times, but faith is metaphor, and who knows how the data behind these metaphors has traveled, from where and for how long. We walk amid the ruins of a civilization that apparently had godlike powers thousands of years before we could walk upright. Your own world, Kovacs, is encircled by angels with flaming swords”"

Whoa. I lifted my hands, palms out. "Let's damp down the metaphor core for a moment. Harlan's World has a system of orbital battle platforms that the Martians forgot to decommission when they left."

"Yes," Hand gestured impatiently, "Orbitals built of some substance that resists every attempt to scan it, orbitals with the power to strike down a city or a mountain, but who forbear to destroy anything save those vessels that try to ascend into the heavens. What else is that but an angel?"

"It's a fucking machine, Hand. With programmed parameters that probably have their basis in some kind of planetary conflict”"

"Can you be sure of that?"

He was leaning across the table now. I found myself mirroring his posture as my own intensity was stoked.

"Have you ever been to Harlan's World, Hand? No, I thought not. Well I grew up there and I'm telling you the orbitals are no more mystical than any other Martian artifact”"

"What, no more mystical than the songspires? His voice dropped to a hiss. Trees of stone that sing to the rising and setting sun? No more mystical than a gate that opens like a bedroom door onto”"

He stopped abruptly and glanced around, face flushing with the near indiscretion. I sat back and grinned at him.

Admirable passion, for someone in a suit that expensive. "So you're trying to sell me the Martians as voodoo gods. Is that it?"

"I'm not trying to sell you anything," he muttered, straightening up. "And no, the Martians fit quite comfortably into this world. We don't need recourse to the places of origin to explain them. I'm just trying to show you how limited your worldview is without an acceptance of wonder."

I nodded.

"Very good of you." I stabbed a finger at him. "Just do me a favor, Hand. When we get where we're going, keep this shit stowed, will you? I'm going to have enough to worry about without you weirding out on me."

"I believe only what I have seen," he said stiffly. "I have seen Ghede and Carrefour walk among us in the flesh of men, I have heard their voices speak from the mouths of the hougan, I have summoned them."

"Yeah, right."

He looked at me searchingly, offended belief melting slowly into something else. His voice loosened and flowed down to a murmur. "This is strange, Kovacs. You have a faith as deep as mine. The only thing I wonder is why you need so badly not to believe."

That sat between us for almost a minute before I touched it. The noise from surrounding tables faded out and even the wind out of the north seemed to be holding its breath. Then I leaned forward, speaking less to communicate than to dispel the laser-lit recall in my head.

"You're wrong, Hand," I said quietly. "I'd love to have access to all this shit you believe. I'd love to be able to summon someone who's responsible for this fuckup of a creation. Because then I'd be able to kill them. Slowly."

- Richard K. Morgan, Broken Angels

This passage struck me, it's filled with Real Truth. And it's a perfect example of why I like Takeshi so much: he's just like me, only way smarter, capable, better looking and generally the perfect post-cyberpunk hero. I came to be an atheist from exactly this same place, and even as my vitriol at the world around me mellows with age, I still can't find any reason to need to believe in any kind of superstitious mumbo-jumbo. If there is some kind of god, I'd want to get my hands on it too. This book is to Takeshi what Quantum of Solace is to James Bond - the armor of years of cynical jadedness is wearing thin, and Takeshi's bitterness is beginning to lash out.

one provocation

 On Wednesday, 22/09/2010 ≅ 03:39 ©brainycat spoke thusly: 

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