In 2411, death is not forever. Afterward, they can read your personality from an implanted "cortical stack" and upload you into a new body--at a price. Hero Kovacs has worn many bodies on different worlds as a former member of the UN Envoy Corps, programmed killers to a man. Now the incredibly rich Bancroft brings him to Earth to investigate a killing... of Bancroft himself, restored from his digital backup and rejecting the police theory of suicide.
Half the vice-lords of 25th-century San Francisco are soon chasing Kovacs with futuristic surveillance, drugs and weaponry. Virtual-reality interrogation means they can torture you to death, and then start again. There's a bleak slave trade in rented or confiscated bodies--and Kovacs finds his current borrowed face is all too well known to both police and underworld.
Ultraviolent set-pieces follow, sprinkled with philosophical asides such as this reflection on a stungun: "It was the single forgiving phrase in the syntax of weaponry I had strapped around me. The rest were unequivocal sentences of death."
There are some James-Bondian implausibilities, such as Kovacs's final confrontation with the villain he's sworn to kill: rather than shooting and leaving fast, he discusses the plot for 10 pages until... but that would be telling. This is high-tension SF action, hard to put down--though squeamish readers may shut their eyes rather frequently. --David Langford
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Outside, there were more alarms and two of the medical crew were still alive. Corrault had succeeded in crawling a dozen metres down the corridor in a broad trail of her own blood and one of her colleagues, too weak to escape, was trying to prop himself up against the wall. The floor was slippery under him and he kept sliding back down. I ignored him and went after the woman. She stopped when she heard my footsteps, twisted her head to look round and then began to crawl again, frantically. I stamped a foot down between her shoulders to make her stop and then kicked her onto her back.
We looked at each other for a long moment while I remembered her impassive face as she had put me under the night before. I lifted the blaster for her to see.
Real Death, I said, and pulled the trigger.
I walked back to the remaining medic who had seen and was now scrabbling desperately backwards away from me. I crouched down in front of him. The screaming of the alarms rose and fell over our heads like lost souls.
Jesus Christ, he moaned as I pointed the blaster at his face. Jesus Christ. I only work here.
Good enough. I told him.
The blaster was almost inaudible against the alarms.
Working rapidly, I took care of the third medic in a similar fashion, dealt with Miller a little more at length, stripped Jerrys headless corpse of its jacket and tucked the garment under my arm. Then I scooped up the Philips gun, tucked it into my waistband and left. On my way out along the screaming corridors of the clinic, I killed every person that I met, and melted their stacks to slag.
The police were landing on the roof as I let myself out of the front door and walked unhurriedly down the street. Under my arm, Millers severed head was beginning to seep blood through the lining of Jerrys jacket. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.