Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Market Forces by Richard Morgan

This book is ludicrous. The premise really doesn't hold up to the minutest bit of scrutiny, and yet the writing isn't quite as pointed as necessary for a satire. But for all that, it was an enjoyable read, once I resolved to stop trying to think if anything like this would ever happen. Because, after all, even if it's ludicrous, Mad Max in the modern corporate world is pretty fun.

It's a world where it's perfectly legal (within certain vestiges of control) to duel it out with cars on the way into the city to the big corporation where you work, and in the process, spin the other person out or even kill them after they've wrecked. It's a world where the envelopes are being pushed further and further towards outright legalization of hunting people down and killing them...but, you know, only if you're going for the same job, or someone pissed you off at work. Or if you're a suit and you venture into the urban wastelands populated by those who have no jobs, no social security net, and nothing to lose, and they try to challenge you for daring to come into their territory, and you kill a bunch of them.

It's a world where money owns justice, a new precedents in brutality are constantly being set.

Our entry into this world is through Chris Faulkner, an up-and-coming executive renowned for not only taking out a rival some years before, but backing over him five times afterwards. He is recruited into a company even more interested in bending the rules until there really aren't rules anymore, disliked by some executives, befriended by others. His portfolio is in Conflict Investment - making money off of small wars all over the planet, by backing successful ruthless dictatorships/coups in return for hefty concessions.

Yeah, okay, maybe this is satire. There's just something about the writing I'd like to be a little more pointed. However, even without that, there's a lot Morgan is saying here about cutthroat corporate culture and how it goes hand in hand with toxic masculinity. The few women around have to buy into the culture to succeed, just as the men do, but it's impossible not to trace the roots back to the word macho.

It's a world where being so macho you'd kill for position consumes everyone who opts into that life and condemns everyone who doesn't. (In England and much of the world, anyway - Scandinavian countries seem to have retained some semblance of sanity.) Those who refuse to buy into that murderous paradigm are painted as weak losers, because to kill is what makes one a good businessman.

That's where it begins to break down for me a bit on a practical level - sure, you may be able to drive well and kill people in a car or shoot them, but...how exactly does that play into being a good investment banker? We talk about cutthroat worlds, but is that really a directly transferable skill rather than a handy metaphor? This world feels like it would fall apart far more quickly than it even appears to be doing.

In the end, too, the Mad Max races and death matches are just a little too exuberant to have the edge they would need for satire, but Morgan's approaching some interesting ideas under all that. I didn't love this, but it was never a boring read or a bad one.

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