Takeshi Kovacs, the body-jumping soldier of the future is back in the sequel to my previously-reviewed Altered Carbon. But while the first book was a cyberpunk noir detective story, Broken Angels is a completely different style of story, albeit still set in the gritty far future as the first novel.
Kovacs is back to being a soldier-of-fortune, rather than a detective, and is approached by a shifty individual with a plan: stake claim to a priceless alien artifact smack in the middle of a war zone. Kovacs signs up for the caper, joining forces with an archaelogue (I do not know why Morgan doesn't use the word "archaeologist" like everyone else) and a sleazy corporate operator. Later they recruit a band of fellow mercenaries who you know will just serve as cannon fodder for the rest of the book.
Like I said before, Altered Carbon was a detective story, but Broken Angels is much more of a techno-thriller: weird alien artifacts, mysterious deaths, and an escalation of violence throughout the story. In the first book, which takes place on Earth, Kovacs comments about how antiquated Earth's culture is and this is reflected in the much more high-tech aspects of this story making it less cyberpunk and more just hard sci-fi.
And frankly, it just isn't as good. Altered Carbon explored the notions of what it means to be human in a age where people are digital constructs. Broken Angels gets a little into what it would mean for humanity to encounter a far-superior alien society, but not enough to really grip the reader beyond, "oooh....spooky weird..." at best. Kovacs isn't as philosophical as he once was, but instead seems to spend a lot of time alternatively complaining about suffering from radiation poisoning or mooning over the archaeologist in a very, very undeveloped romance.
In addition, there is a teased-at notion about religion, especially Voodoo (reminding me more than a little bit about Neuromancer) which ultimately comes to nothing at all.
In the end, Broken Angels turned into a confusing, jumbled mess that I rushed to get through not because I couldn't wait to see what happened, but just to get to the end, and that's not a good sign.
On the "what can I get out of this for gaming," front, it seems odd to say that the story was almost too familiar a trope to be really helpful. How many gaming stories out there feature the hunt for alien artifacts? It being in the middle of a toxic warzone (to the point that all the participants suffer the effects as the story winds on) is kind of clever, but overall it has been done and done often. Sigh.