Agony Column Home
Agony Column Review Archive

Market Forces

Richard Morgan

Victor Gollancz / Orion Publishing House

UK Hardcover First

ISBN 0-575-07512-0

Publication Date: 03-04-2004

385 Pages; £10.99

Date Reviewed: 01-30-04

Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2004

Market Forces

Richard Morgan

Ballantine Books

US Trade Paperback First

ISBN 0-345-45774-9

Publication Date: 03-01-2005

464 Pages; $14.95

Date Reviewed: 01-30-04

Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2004



Science Fiction, Horror, General Fiction

03-21-02, 04-15-02, 04-29-02, 01-07-03, 01-27-03, 02-25-03, 01-02-04

Chris Faulkner, the main character of Richard Morgan's brutally satiric novel 'Market Forces', represents the end point of an economic evolution already well underway. He's a well-turned heel who must, in the progress of the novel, learn to re-define his "conscience" as that which preserves him at any price. In a world where the United States Pentagon presents a plan called the Policy Analysis Market (PAM), under which economists would place bets on the likelihood of future terrorist attacks in order to better predict them, parody is pretty hard to pull off. But Morgan manages the neat trick pursuing current economic trends to their violent conclusions while making us care about the fate of his heartless characters. In fact he goes the Pentagon one better. 'Market Forces' carefully, cheerfully coerces the reader into rooting for Faulkner's ruthless elimination of anything remotely resembling a conscience, a heart or empathetic identification with your fellow human beings. It turns out that survival of the fittest is the best hope for mankind's continued survival. As long as you're on the right end of the baseball bat.

As 'Market Forces' begins, Chris has just landed a plum job. He's moved on from Emerging Markets at Hammet McColl and into Conflict Investment with Shorn Associates, the UK's leading mercenary investment firm. His big kill at H&M earned him quite a reputation in that firm. But backing up five times over the body of a dead banker only gets him to the bottom of the ladder at Shorn. Fortunately, Mike Bryant, who himself is clearly partner material at Shorn, takes Chris under his wing. Chris's wife, Carla, is his ace in the hole. She's a mechanic who has modified his Saab with her own brand of distanced armor, which keeps his car lightweight, maneuverable and deadly. But Chris's direct supervisor, Louise Hewitt, dislikes and distrusts him. She thinks he's soft. Chris might be a superstar executive, if only he can manage to survive.

Morgan's setup synthesizes a number of influences from both sides of the academic divide. Both within novel and in an afterward, he cites sources such as Noam Chomsky, John Pilger, Joseph Stiglitz and William Easterly. Their bleak visions of the rapacious capitalism that's running ever more rampant inform the world he creates in 'Market Forces'. The luxury gap has become virtually uncrossable. Corporate entities exercise a power that transcends government. Horrific slaughters are carried out by corporate police and manipulated by suited economists from air-conditioned skyscrapers. Same as it ever was, right?

There's one little catch. Morgan borrows as easily from the bottom as the top, so with your high-minded economic influences, you'll find a seamless integration of breathtakingly funny B-movie violence. Start your engines with 'Death Race 2000' and finish the game with 'Mad Max' as corporate economists fight for their right to oversee overseas accounts with hopped-up BMW battle-wagons. Morgan takes today's road rage to its logical conclusion as a means of getting ahead in the vicious world of corporate warfare. But he does so with a very deft hand. He unreels the backstory of his year 2049 with the élan required to make it stick. It doesn't seem farfetched, or even frightening. It's merely frighteningly logical.

The glue that holds all this together is Chris Faulkner. If Morgan is to succeed in his satiric intentions, he's got to keep his reader squarely on Faulkner's side. What Morgan manages is something along the lines of a reversed 'A Clockwork Orange'. In 'Market Forces', Chris Faulkner starts out as a likable guy with a conscience, if not a heart of gold, in a world that demands violence. While we get to know and like Chris, he tries to fight against what his world requires. By the time we really like him, the reader realizes that this guy is going to need to wield that baseball bat if he's to survive. And we're there for him every step of the way. Morgan manages to hit a home run with his inverse journey from kind-of good to uber-bad. We cheer the character, laugh at the excess and think about the implications of it all in the safety of our homes.

As regards the economics of it all, Morgan occasionally blurs around the edges, but it's only the reading equivalent of a sliver of blue screen seen just before Mel Gibson slams some leather-clad moto-gladiator upside the head. The book is propulsive enough that you don't have time to think about all the ugly details, and in fact, not thinking about all the ugly details is part of the point of the book. We're all happy to buy plastic-wrapped red, wet slabs of meat in nice, neat styrofoam trays, and not so happy to see what goes on in the slaughterhouse. Morgan even manages to make the reader think about the science-fictional implications of the creation of the game of rugby.

It's not surprising that 'Market Forces' is something of a wild ride. It is however, distinctly different than Morgan's previous novels about the detective Takeshi Kovacs. In 'Market Forces', Chris Faulkner is handed a novel that is described such that it sounds suspiciously like Morgan's first novel, 'Altered Carbon'. He thinks that, "It all seemed very far-fetched." That's an interesting and rather typical role-reversal for 'Market Forces', which may itself seem rather far-fetched. That's probably why Morgan made sure that those economics-tome references were there. But we all live in Morgan's world, and we don't need a weatherman to see which way the wind blows. We're all subject to 'Market Forces'. Few of them however, are as enjoyable as this novel. Fewer still have done as much for baseball.