After reading Elizabeth Moon, it came as a great relief to read prose
with texture and depth. Richard does a really good job of imbuing said
texture and depth into the richness of the characters and gritty ambience
of the environment.
That said, once into the work it quickly becomes apparent that there
isn’t actually that much story here: an ‘archaeologue’ knows about a
space-jump gate in a cave on a beach which leads to a desserted alien
(nay, Martian!) battleship, and a motley crew of disposable soldiers are
led by a Special Forces Special Agent to go through the gate and place a
beacon on the ship, claiming it for their organization. Everything goes
very, very messy and lots of people kill lots of people. And all the
while all of the soldiers are decaying from a lethal dose of radiation,
but this came with the territory and they all are promised new ‘sleeves’
when the mission is over.
The sleeving thing is interesting. At first blush it would appear to take
away all jeopardy from the lives of the soldiers, but Richard Morgan uses
the device very subtly and the fact that most soldiers would consider
themselves ultimately immortal makes real death by murder--and such does
befall a significant number of the cast--even more horrific.
It comes as a surprise that the final wrap-up details allegiance crossing
and double-crossing and intrigue which you didn’t realize you had missed;
it is like an impressionistic story where you only leave with the
impression that you read a good book! I’m almost tempted to go back and
read it again now I know what I’m looking for, but on balance don’t think
the investment would really be worth it. Maybe some future day.
The weakness (or is it just too complicated for my little brain, or has
the author simply assumed too much?) of the story is fully coated-over by
the wonderful writing, and the overall unpredictability. The build-up, of
establishing a prescence on a new world and then assembling the motley
crew is especially well done. Like The Sound of Music, the actual
story is far less interesting than the characters and their back-story!