Altered Carbon is where cyberpunk meets hard-boiled detective story, and some deeply philosophical questions get asked. What makes us who we are? What would we become if we could live forever?
Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan
Genres: Cyberpunk, Sci-Fi, Mystery
Published: 28th February, 2006
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Series: Takeshi Kovach #1
Four hundred years from now mankind is strung out across a region of interstellar space inherited from an ancient civilization discovered on Mars. The colonies are linked together by the occasional sublight colony ship voyages and hyperspatial data-casting. Human consciousness is digitally freighted between the stars and downloaded into bodies as a matter of course.
But some things never change. So when ex-envoy, now-convict Takeshi Kovacs has his consciousness and skills downloaded into the body of a nicotine-addicted ex-thug and presented with a catch-22 offer, he really shouldn’t be surprised. Contracted by a billionaire to discover who murdered his last body, Kovacs is drawn into a terrifying conspiracy that stretches across known space and to the very top of society.
In this world where Altered Carbon takes place, everyone is fitted with a cortical stack at birth. If your body is destroyed beyond repair (a.k.a. sleeve death), you are simply downloaded into a new body, or sleeve as they call it. That is, unless you made prior arrangements to prevent this, like becoming Neo-Catholic for one. Real death is possible, but someone has to go to a lot effort to destroy your stack.
Switching and upgrading bodies sounds all fun and games, as long as you can actually afford it. Those not so fortunate may end up in random bodies, even as a different gender or race. But where are those bodies come from? You probably don’t want to know.
Takeshi Kovacs (Tak for short) from Harlans World wakes up one day on Earth in an unknown body, where he had been hired by Laurens Bancroft, a powerful and quasi immortal businessman to investigate how Laurens’ brain ended up splattering all over the wall of his study and why everyone is convinced it was suicide. Everyone, except Laurens, of course.
Tak is not a nice guy. He’s also not an outright asshole, but quite close. As an envoy he received special training to control his emotions, and various techs, gadgets and upgrades put him above average people. Multiple deaths and the loss of his team also doesn’t help turn him into a cheerful and friendly guy. After downloading into his new sleeve, he runs into trouble after trouble, and it seems the sleeve’s previous owner had his own issues as well which our envoy now has to internalize and sort out before they compromise his investigation.
There’s plenty of action, a generous amount of blood and violence, interspersed with bits of dry humour, and some delicious adultery. While I don’t read books purely for sex scenes, I don’t mind the occasional dick in the face, especially when it’s done in such a gritty, sexy and manly way. I like manly.
Cool technology, a dangerous out-of-his-mind bad guy, and a feisty side kick for Tak make this story thoroughly entertaining, and a must read for fans of cyberpunk and macho sci-fi.
I have to say I was quite impressed with the Netflix series based on this book, up to a certain point, where they decided this just needs a bit more drama and invented some details that were not part of the story originally, and frankly just made the whole thing overly dramatic and kind of sappy. Putting that aside, I will remain forever impressed with Joel Kinnaman’s abs, because fucking hell, what’s your diet plan, dude?!
Look at these beautiful covers!