In “Market Forces”, Richard Morgan imagines a near-future Britain future in which large consultancies make money by sponsoring small wars and then selling arms and services and splitting the spoils. Work is put out to tender via Requests for Proposals but the competing teams literally fight to the death in ritualized street combat to win them. The gap between rich and poor has widened. Road use is restricted to an elite, who use their cars as personal combat weapons, attempting to assassinate or disable each other to win status by taking the conquered person’s plastic from their dead or bleeding bodies.
The premise is a deliberate exaggeration but the spirit it embodies reflect my experience of how it feels to work in large elite consultancies.
At first glance, “Market Forces” seems to be a very different book from the body-switching, space-travelling worlds of the Kovacs books that made Richard Morgan’s reputation but the themes are the same, they are just a lot closer to home, which I found made them much more disturbing.
As usual, Richard Morgan’s writing is taut, his storytelling is compelling, his sex scenes are highly charged and his action sequences are cinematographic.
Yet when I look beyond the up-close-and-personal violence and the gritty sex scenes, I see a book powered by anger. The anger of a man who has clawed his way up into a “winning” position in a society set up to keep him down. He is aware that the price of winning is to turn himself into the sort of person he despises. He understands how shallow and transitory winning is and that he is always one step away from becoming a loser. He is angry at the system, angry at himself for playing the game and for being so damned good at doing this thing that society values and that he abhors, angry at his wife for making him acknowledge that he wants something different but is unable to let go of what he has.
That all felt fairly real to me. On a more muted, boring, socially acceptable scale, I’ve been there and done that and I recognize the taste it leaves in my mouth.
Morgan’s near-future world is a mirror held up to our own and a much more unforgiving and politically charged mirror than most Science Fiction offers. Richard Morgan, who studied history a Cambridge, once said:
“Society is, always has been and always will be a structure for the exploitation and oppression of the majority through systems of political force dictated by an élite, enforced by thugs, uniformed or not, and upheld by a willful ignorance and stupidity on the part of the very majority whom the system oppresses.”
In “Market Forces” the thugs are venture capitalists/arms dealers. Faulkner, the main character, has the capacity to be one of the most effective thugs and to reap all the rewards that winning implies. Except, the price seems to be losing the ability to look himself in the eyes in the mirror.
Richard Morgan’s book has been criticized for having an unrealistic premise. Sadly, I find the basic economics very credible. In any given year between 1945 and 2007, there have been 30+ wars going on somewhere in the world (go here for the details). In 2013, Britain was the world’s fifth largest arms exporter, with sales recorded as $1,394m ( go here for the details) but the big money is now with security contractors firms who make billions of dollars from conflict. If you doubt the credibility of Morgan’s premise go here to the home page of ACADEMI, formerly Blackwater, who are a leader in their field and who offer:
“stability and protection to people and locations experiencing turmoil.” And it works with “federal, state and local government clients, global commercial customers, numerous law enforcement and intelligence organizations and agencies and allied governments worldwide.”