Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Steel Remains

Seeing as how I've read four of Richard K Morgan’s novels (and written him saying I enjoyed them) I guess it's safe to say I'm a fan. I entirely acknowledge that they're not for everyone, but I don't think books are supposed to be for everyone. Sometimes they have to push different buttons, hit different high and low notes.

If, for example, you've got no stomach for ultra-violent futuristic warfare, virtual torture and drug-enhance graphic sex... well, Morgan may not be for you. His work decidedly includes all those things. He also writes novels full of interesting ideas. His work is ABOUT stuff, about what makes us tick as humans, about what technology may offer us and what that means for us as a race, about our prejudices and desires and, oh, other stuff... If he wasn't exploring real themes I wouldn't like his work as much as I do.

It was with considerable interest, then, that I looked to his first fantasy novel, The Steel Remains. As with his Takeshi Kovacs novels and as in Thirteen, his protagonist is cranky, damaged, deadly, quick to fight or screw, an anti-hero whose moral core is hidden pretty deeply. Ringil is all those things, this time set down in a fantasy world.

Morgan himself describes it thusly: "The Steel Remains is a grubby, blood-splattered trawl through exactly how unpleasant it might be to actually have to live in the average fantasy universe."

That nails it.

There's another distinguishing feature, though. His protagonist is gay. He's unapologetically homosexual in orientation. Morgan is as blunt and graphic about his sexual adventures as he was in earlier books. This, I imagine, is fairly challenging for some of his readers...

What did I think? I think it was a bold move. As ever, I think there's substance in it. I think Morgan's work is as notable for how it challenges/confronts readers as it is for how it entertains them. I remain a fan.

Some other, more detailed reviews can be found here:

The SF Site

Fantasy Book Critic

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Blogger David Batista said...

Count me in as a HUGE fan of Mr. Morgan's works as well. I was absolutely hooked on his brand of SF the moment I first read Altered Carbon. Wow! Completely opened my eyes and showed me the type of stories I myself wanted to and should be writing.

I thought Thirteen was a masterpiece. But now The Steel Remains, besides me having some initial doubts, is at the top of my list of favorites. Morgan certainly created a unique and wonderfully nuanced character in Ringil Eskiath, every much as flawed yet dynamic as his Takeshi Kovacs.

Is it me, or is TSR leaning more toward sci-fi than fantasy? I started to pick up on this halfway through the tome, and then certainly by the end. Morgan seems to be operating very heavily under Clarke's third law of prediction in the handling of the background story. Which is just all kinds of awesome from my perspective.

11:37 AM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...


Yes, I can see TSR being thought of as sci-fi. I was surprised, in a way, how the rustic trappings do relatively little in terms of changing the core Morgan-ness of it.

Blaster? Bad ass-sword? Not so different, apparently...

4:42 PM  
Blogger Child of Albion said...

I have just begun "The Steel Remains" because I decided I wanted my fantasy reading to be challenged. The first few pages of the book, however, have done little yet to do that. (Big hero, fancy sword, mystical "other" race, little backward village, clear but prosaic prose) Your review, however, leads me to conclude that not all stories need to grip from the first to hold at the end. I'll continue.

6:44 AM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

Yeah, but... the thing is I can't always account for my tastes. I do like Morgan's work, and I know a lot of other folks - very good writers included - that do also. But I also know other people who didn't dig it - or who actively disliked it.

So... as for my mention of it, please know that's just me saying that his work interests me. It's no more complex than that. This is not a case of, for example, assigning Beloved or Moby Dick because I KNOW the book is a work of genius. This is a lighter recommendation than that.

10:07 AM  
Anonymous Anubis said...

If it weren't for Mr. Morgan trying to sell his fantasy novel by announcing that Tolkien wrote children's books, the recommendation might have teased me. But as things are like they are...

And this is not a disgruntled LotR fan speaking. It's someone holding the conviction that you NEVER criticize an author by saying she/he writes children's books.

12:24 PM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

Ah, yes, Mr. Morgan pulls no punches and does not tread lightly with his opinions. I tend to be a bit milder myself.

Of course, some authors that ostensibly write for adults DO write stuff that's pretty much YA. I'm not against that. Mr. Morgan, however...

12:35 PM  

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