Saturday, October 17, 2015

Review of Market Forces by Richard Morgan

Science fiction writer sitting, brainstorming story ideas…

Hmmm… business is competition, right?  And for the moment that competition is generally peaceful, regulated by government institutions businesses dislike but accept.  But what if business were above the law—played by its own rules—and were allowed to openly invest in the weapons and wars that support their profit lines?  Wouldn’t this turn business into war and vice versa—a negotiation with violence instead of diplomacy?  And what if, just what if, the position of CEO, winning of contracts, major decisions, etc. were decided by car duels?  And what if—wait a minute!  Car duels?

It’s at this point the writer faces Shakespeare: to include or not to include car duels.  Richard Morgan, in his 2004 Market Forces, decided ‘Yes, I want car duels to back my corporate wars, and not only will there be car duels, there will be violent and melodramatic car duels.’  It’s therefore a good thing he also decided to take the next necessary step and make the novel satire.

Market Forces is the wild west in near-future Britain.  Corporate greed has been given free reign to invest, including foreign wars for a portion of GDP, and after years on the no-no list, guns are once again legal possessions—the ultimate in liberal politics.  The gap between the rich and the poor exacerbated, crime runs redolent through London—security tight in affluent neighborhoods and anything-but in the ghettos and hoods.  Car duels legalized, CEOs and other executives decide corporate matters and gain power in souped up autos, banging and smashing together on empty stretches of highway beneath the watchful eye of Driver Control.

Enter Chris Faulkner, an executive newly hired at Shorn Associates (a big-name global investor) in their Conflict Investment division.  Having recently taken down a prominent executive in a car duel, Faulkner is considered a blue-ribbon catch for Shorn, who immediately set him working on one of their failing accounts: the sponsorship of an aging Columbian dictator about to be replaced by his son, a person sponsored by a rival firm.  The pressures of his job slowly mount until the hard decisions he’s required to make cloud his home life, taking him to the edge of power, bloody power.

Market Forces is a very male narrative: who is the baddest gorilla in the jungle?  Not a critique, it is an observation of intent; there are moments the scenes capture real-life testosterone.  The interaction of Faulkner and his uber-aggressive associate Bryant is at times all too realistic, their bouts of male-pride, chest-beating, and decisive ‘logic’ all too possible in reality.  But the novel’s larger driving force is competition.  Masculinity an overt part of competition, the latter works with the former to create the novel’s business environment, and by default a societal situation wherein kindness, good will, etc. are tossed aside in favor of the need to perpetually get ahead in profits and power.  One executive in the novel states (none too subtly): “And what every success has taught us, and continues to teach us, again and again, is a very simple truth. Who has the finance.’ A dramatic pause, one slim black clad arm holding a clenched fist aloft. ‘Has the power.” The commentary obvious, the story cuts to the metaphorical heart of much Western capitalism.

Market Forces is thus reminiscent of a Robert Sheckley offering: take an element of society and extrapolate upon it until the inherent violence becomes absurd unto satire.  From the novel The Status Civilization to such well known shorts as “The Seventh Victim”, Sheckley endowed everyday phenomena with aggression to force the reader to question what lays beyond, and inevitably, the underlying purpose or value of the phenomena.  Faulkner’s path through Market Forces is no different.  Not the gritty one-man army Morgan painted Takeshi Kovacs to be, the young executive goes further, keeps stepping further and further into the deep end as his social and business affairs seem to require.  But it’s in Faulkner’s ultimate fate that Morgan plants his exclamation point: a ‘hero’ in the context of the novel, but something else in reality.

If there are any issues with Market Forces, it would have to be quantity, and by default, quality; the novel would have been much better 150 or so pages less, and by doing so sharpened the edge of his satire.  Morgan does achieve some degree of characterization beyond standard sf material, but it’s at the expense of word count; Market Forces is not what I would call a tightly drawn narrative; Morgan spends a lot of the time beating around the bush.  He eventually makes his point, but by then most of the birds have escaped.

Science fiction writer looking to their next novel…

Hmm…  universities are competiive, yes? And for the moment that competition is generally peaceful, regulated by institutions the universities accept.  What if…

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