Richard Morgan’s “The Steel Remains”

Any sufficiently advanced science is indistinguishable from magic.

Arthur C. Clarke’s much cited Third Law* makes a good starting point for a consideration of Richard Morgan’s The Steel Remains, let alone my love of the mutability of remains between verb and noun states – referring to the museum references for the former, and several pieces of Kiriath technology for the latter. The Steel Remains is a gritty fantasy world, but unlike the relative realism of worlds like Joe Abercrombie’s it is rife with the fantastical elements of explicit monsters and of magic. It’s an interesting blend, and one that works very well.

The story follows the lives of three veterans of the war with the Scaled Folk and explores the part they play in facing a new threat to the stagnating Yheleth Empire and the unconverted** Leagues. While the characters at first glance may appear to cohere to fantasy stereotypes, you’ll soon realise just how different Morgan makes his heroes. The brilliance of the concept and their execution are fantastic, and I am loath to repeat them here, because a lot of what makes Morgan’s writing so strong is in the pulling away of veils.


This is Morgan’s debut fantasy novel and has justly received high praise from well-regarded authors upon its dust-cover. I was first introduced to Morgan through his first Takeshi Kovacs novel, and swore to read further since then. What Morgan did for cyberpunk and future-noir in that book (tearing apart expectations and saying a massive fuck-you to convention), he attempts to do here. Indeed, on his website he says:

“If you had to – really had to – kill someone, which way would you rather they made you do it? With a pistol, or with an axe?

Exactly. So welcome to the brutal world of Ringil Angeleyes, scarred hero of Gallows Gap and death-wish-furious, semi-retired warrior aristocrat. I’ve been talking a good fight about fantasy noir for a while – now I’m putting my money where my mouth is. The Steel Remains is a grubby, blood-spattered trawl through exactly how unpleasant it might be to actually have to live in the average fantasy universe. Can you do noir in a fantasy landscape? You can certainly try…”

I think he manages it.

Which brings up an interesting idea, at least to me, and especially within my frame of mind as a budding writer: if your audience are unaware of the conventions, does circumventing them in such a manner as Morgan does prevent the full impact of the writing? I wouldn’t necessarily like to judge, at least at this point.

Either way, The Steel Remains remains fantastically strong through its sheer power, its fantastic characters and its brutal writing.

* See rule three.

** And the religious overtones of that word are most definitely intentional.

Richard Morgan’s “The Steel Remains”


I’ve had a look at the long list of words for killing things, but there doesn’t appear to be a word for the killing of childhood. Maybe it’s the killing of an ideal, or perhaps the burying of the past. Maybe there’s no word for it for an even darker reason.*

This post is prompted by this one, entitled “The Final Harry Potter – The Death of my Childhood”, which from my recent Facebook homepage and Twitter stream, seems to be a fairly common opinion.

I understand that people have been growing up with the stories of Harry Potter for a long while, the final publication of The Deathly Hallows bringing the first nail to the coffin housing childhood and the subsequent filming the final one. It’s the end of an era. I understand that.

My gripes with the Harry Potter franchise have existed since the earliest opportunities, and for a number of reason – firstly that Rowling gets her mythology wrong, secondly that the books aren’t particularly well written. I have been able to cope with them by seeing them as a gateway drug, of sorts.

Yes, they’re finished. You might choose to see that as the killing of your childhood. Accept it. People grow old, people grow up.

There’s plenty of good fantasy to suit your current adulthood – George RR Martin or Joe Abercrombie to name but two. And if you insist on reading adolescent fantasy, try something decent. I will always recommend Alan Garner.**

And for those still obsessed with the concept of childhoodicide, here is a song by Iron Maiden and here is a song by Marillion.


* Readers of this entry should be able to ascertain the veiled reason.

** There’s a video through that link. You should watch it..


Authorial Meetings (2)

Last night saw the bawdy rogue Jack the Rogue and myself attend the launch signing of Joe Abercrombie’s The Heroes.

We arrived shortly after six, and entered a mass of threescore folk waiting to see the awaited man. He arrived (well, entered) shortly after us and was ushered to a central positioning, while we were ushered round a bookcase to a location with a much better view.

He gave a short speech, often joking at his desire for us to buy rather than necessarily read his books, a reading and a short question session. The whole thing was presided over by an aged man in glasses and an ill-fitting branded shirt that publicised the signing tour we were attending.

And then we waited. In a queue.

I wonder how much authors enjoy these events. I wonder if they see them as a great way to see their audience (and readers new, such as myself – the read extract guaranteed my sale), or as a hassle of the publicity monster – a trial to be endured until the writibf process restarts the cycle. I wonder if authors see more bizarre and humorous conversations as mine (who requested the book be signed to the meadmaster – which he misspelled to suit his canon) as a breath of fresh air in otherwise repetitive motions, or as a further trial to survive!

I suspect the latter.

(On another note, Abercrombie recommended a fantasy pub for our #pubquest. It was let down solely by its music, but we loved the look of Waxy o’Connor’s.)

Authorial Meetings (2)

Authorial Meetings

And so it was said that on the twenty seventh day of the first month in the year before Ragnarok,* our intrepid heroes did chance upon the wise sage Abercrombie upon a Forbidden Planet, and here they were well met. Each received a weighty tome, marked with the sign of the sage, and they dids’t carry this tome to a nearby alehouse where they quaffed much ale and ate much pie.

Or so it will be. Tonight, my good friend Jack and I are prefacing our continued #pubquest by going to Forbidden Planet, where Joe Abercrombie will be signing copies of his new book.

I’ve yet to read any of his old books, but they come highly praised (especially by Jack himself), and so I am looking forward to meeting the man that pens these tales. Indeed, it might even shunt me into writing more fantasy too.

I shall regale you with my musings on the matter after the event.

Alternatively, you might come along too and meet my good self, and meet this wizened sage also.

* So, the Mayan’s predicted the apocalypse in 2012. Noone specified whose apocalyptic vision was correct – so I’m taking my vote with Nordic. Indeed, this year I’m writing an epic poem about the man who causes Ragnarok; his name is Irgard, and expect more of him in the future. Until that future ends.

Authorial Meetings