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Richard K. Morgan: Altered States September 2004

Richard K. Morgan was born in London, grew up in a village near Norwich, and graduated from Cambridge in 1987. He taught English for 14 years, first in Turkey and Spain and then at Strathclyde University in Glasgow until, with the success of his first novel Altered Carbon (2002), he became a full-time writer.

He is published as Richard K. Morgan in the US, but Richard Morgan in the UK due to different cover designs for Altered Carbon. His UK publisher dropped the initial to use a larger more mainstream font, and now he is stuck with two names. He prefers the "K".

Altered Carbon was optioned by Warner Bros., and won the Philip K. Dick award in 2003. Its sequel, Broken Angels appeared in 2003, and the series will continue with Woken Furies, scheduled for early 2005.
Photo by Charles N. Brown
Market Forces (2004), not part of the series, shifts from far-future SF violence to mid-21st century corporate violence. He is also writing a six-issue comic series of Black Widow for Marvel, with the first to appear in September 2004. He lives in Scotland with his wife, Virginia.

Excerpts from the interview:

“I've been writing as long as I can remember. In my early teens I was a big fan of Michael Moorcock and reading a lot of Sword & Sorcery, so I started a long fantasy epic which I wrote all through my midteens. It never actually got any closer to completion -- it just kept going and going and going. I abandoned that when I went off to university, because I'd started to read more SF rather than fantasy novels. I messed about with the short form a bit, with no success. I think it's rare to find a really skilled person in both fields. The thing inspiring me was William Gibson's short stuff, the ones published in Omni in the '70s. When I bought his novels, everyone was calling him 'the Chandler of SF.' Immediately I was thinking, 'Chandler -- who's that then?' and I went looking for more of that. Through my early and mid-20s I read a hell of a lot of crime fiction, then went back and started reading more SF again, by which time the two tropes were kind of meshed in my mind.”


“I'm a big movie fan, and I have to say one of the major inspirations for Altered Carbon was Bladerunner, but I'm writing novels because I like the prose form and I don't consciously see my books as movies. I was quite surprised (and delighted) when Altered Carbon was optioned. I had thought it was too complicated, that the ideas wouldn't lend themselves well to the visual medium. It has got a cinematic sheen to it: in the descriptions of the scenes, you can see them as movie scenes. But the subject matter and the way the plot develops don't strike me as particularly cinematic. With characters shifting around between different body 'sleeves,' you won't know which mind's inside which body, and the plot meandered around a lot in classic noir style. Then I got taken out to lunch by a London film executive, and it was weird because she pitched me my own book as a movie, sold it to me! Since Warner Brothers bought the option, I've seen an early draft script and I'm impressed with the amount they actually managed to get in. I was less impressed with the kind of ugly, disfiguring scar of morality they'd slashed across the whole thing. They've turned Kovacs into a nice guy with a daughter who's ill, and he only ever did bad things because he needed to get money for his daughter's operation. The screenplay boiled things down so now the central character is just a regular guy. But that's the way it goes -- you sell your soul, you take the money, you can’t complain.”


“Sleaze appeals innately to something in the human spirit, and it appeals to me just like everybody else. I'm not a 'new man' -- that way madness lies, denying your visceral urges. But accepting that your visceral urges aren't the most important thing in the universe seems like a healthy compromise. So I believe in sleaze, within controlled parameters. The salients of drama don't change. We can still understand Shakespeare, and I guess in 500 years' time they'll be able to read a Chandler novel and understand perfectly why people are behaving the way they're behaving.”


“I'm writing 'Kovacs #3', Woken Furies, now, and what's driving it is a fascination with Kovacs himself. He's got to make some decisions about the way he sees the world. If Altered Carbon has got some analogies with The Big Sleep, and Broken Angels had some inspiration from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, then I guess for the third one the root inspiration is North by Northwest and The Thirty-nine Steps. It's more of a chase thriller, with a lot of to-ing and fro-ing all over Harlan's World in search of things. It's back to the noir staples, in the sense that there are bad guys out to get him, all sorts of weird interests where he can't work out what's going on, and a sort of femme fatale figure, but there's more exotic travel. The Martians left behind orbitals circling Harlan's World, which basically means you can't go up in the air, so getting places takes a long time -- there's an old-fashioned feel to it. It's more extensive in range, and I think it's also more intensely personal. This is Kovacs's novel more than the other two were. Most of the book is about how he comes down from his fixation with vengeance, always having blood on his hands, to a slightly more socially constructive point of view. So I don't think it will be quite as grim as Broken Angels.”

The full interview, with biographical profile, is published in the September 2004 issue of Locus Magazine.

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