(2004) Richard Morgan, Gollancz, £9.99, pbk, 385pp, ISBN 0-575-97567-8
Chris Faulkner lives in a near future world where job applications are settled in staged, gladiatorial road rage incidents, where the goal is to kill your opponent and bring back their plastic. Riding high on the reputation of a particularly bloody kill, Chris is headhunted by Shorn Investments to work in their Conflict Investment division, where he will back rebels, governments and dictatorships, and arrange everything from assassinations to shopping trips to arms fares. Of course, there's the deadly office politics to watch out for, but Chris is befriended by Mike Bryant who shows him the ropes and how to have a good time outside the city in the Zones where the people with no credit live. But as Chris settles into his new role his responsibilities and leisure activities start to take a toll on his marriage, and the manoeuvres of his colleagues force him to settle some conflicts of interest in fatal ways. But when one of the Partners decides Chris is a threat, will he survive the road challenge of his best friend...?
Richard Morgan has painted a vivid world where the dirty deals we already know go on are made explicit. 'Government Forces' routinely kill 'rebels' with the backing of oil companies in African states, and of soft drinks manufacturers in India and elsewhere. The downside of neoliberalism and globalisation, mixed in with the influence of Mad Max and Rollerball, are all too credible for comfort. While the 'corporate dystopia' isn't exactly an unknown trope of SF, rarely has it been made this convincing. Morgan also handles his characters well, charting Chris's breakdown with his mechanic wife and close friendship with Mike in believable detail. The backdrop of the Zones is exploited thoroughly, throwing into sharp relief the ambiguities of Chris's existence and willingness to kill against his friend Mike's almost casual acceptance of his life. This novel foregrounds, in only a slightly exagerrated way, the unequal relationship between some aspects of the developed world and the conflict-torn developing countries of the Third World, which can be quite uncomfortable. There are few conclusions that can be come to; our world is a work in progress and there will be no easy solutions precisely because of 'market forces'. We can only hope that in the real world it can be demonstrated that preserving life is just as profitable as taking it. Highly recommended.
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