Altered Carbon explores what might happen to mankind with supremely advanced AI and neuroscience. I don't like giving anything away but it will be ok to say that people wear a backup device in their heads which can be used to store their brain state in case they die. If their body is obliterated they are downloaded into another one. If the backup device (the "stack") is destroyed, and they are rich enough, they can be restored using a remotely stored backup, which means they lose all memories since the last remote backup was taken.
The novel is full of intelligent, interesting ideas about the practical and moral consequences of the technology. It is also full of extreme graphic violence and grossly crude graphic sex. These two aspects make an incongruous combination and made me wonder if it is directed at serious science fiction readers or teenagers.
On the other hand, the plot is extremely clever. Nearly every passing detail turns into a jigsaw piece or the hinge around which some twist is wound. If you love that kind of cleverness, you may love it. If you want to relax and enjoy reading it, the number of twists and puzzles may wear you down. To me, it felt too clever. I was constantly noticing possible inconsistencies and worrying that some of the explanations didn't seem to work. Many of these turned out to be resolved but I was left uncertain about some.
The story is set in the 25th century and the changes in technology, law, morality, and lifestyle could have taken half the book to explain. The writer's solution is to explain none of it. He chooses a first person narrator who assumes familiarity with the world. This is perfectly natural and gives a realistic feel. If you wrote an autobiography you wouldn't explain democracy and telephones. You gradually pick up what is going on with technology and society, though many of the cultural and historical references remain obscure. But I found the combination of piecing together the world as well as the jigsaw puzzle of a story made it all a bit of a mental exercise.
If you like audiobooks, the audible version is superbly read. I enjoyed it but for the reasons I outlined I probably won't get the sequel.
Earth is a very different place in the future. Technology has advanced to allow people to live several decades longer than they do now. There is some religious resistance and many Catholics prefer not to be resuscitated if they meet an accidental death. This is a quite important point, particularly when it comes to people who break the law. They can be cryogenically treated instead of living in a prison. They are kept on the stacks - which contain their "core" which is something anomalous to the soul. On being brought back they might find themselves in a quite different body (a sleeve, in the techno-talk). Neurachemicals can be bought to make them stronger in every way. Some people keep both AI copies of their sleeves, and different sleeves that they have purchased, which makes identity sometimes difficult to ascertain.
Kovacs is not from earth. He was born on Harlan's world and he has been kidnapped and sent to earth as an Envoy, at the behest of a rich man, Bancroft, who has supposedly commited suicide, but cannot remember doing the deed and is convinced that he was murdered. It's kind of hard to get used to the idea that people come back from the dead, often in a different body (sleeve), if they haven't got AI copies or other sleeves backed up in cold storage. The Meths (short for Methuselahs) are the richest people, having been busy accumulating wealth, often through the exploitation of those less fortunate than them. Kovacs holds the meths in something close to contempt.
The creation of a future world in this book is tremendously well executed. After a while I found myself accepting the high-tech linguistic invention and it didn't hold me up at all - there is always enough going on to grasp the concept - even in the most remote of technical superscript. In fact I found it all too believable and it was a wrench to have to close the book from time to time and get on with my own life!
"Coming back from the dead can be rough." In this smart, edgy, techno-thriller, you get used to the understated wit, the sharp dialogue and a fondness for action rather than words. There's a smattering of sex, some bad language and a couple of scenes of torture. There's also a cracking plot line that takes Kovacs into this strange world as variously, a dupe, someone half in love with death, and finally, a cold-eyed killer. The characterisation is good, a bonus in Sci Fi, where it's often mediocre. The writing is a fusillade of quick jokes, tough talk and, surprisingly enough, on rare occasions some poetry and philosophy. There are a variety of characters, some ambiguous, and a surprise appearance from Jimi Hendrix at a beachside party. He's the personification of a hotel. You'd have to read the book to understand. The pages fly by in this novel, which is funny, very clever, excruciatingly violent and above all a truly brilliant read. It felt real.
on 3 January 2013
Morgan writes in a style that holds the reader's attention. Characters are well-rounded and the internal monologue of the protagonist is well-communicated: we know why he does what he does, even when he might not! The universe portrayed is believable to those used to the genre and the principal conceit (that of 'sleeving') brings many, many, possibilities which are explored within the narrative (and later novels). I was especially taken by the description of the modern elite - the "Meths". The sense of overwhelming old age peering out from a young body, of decadence and ennui, was tangible. Structure aside, the narrative is a kind of future 'noir' with Kovacs playing the Bogart part, although with "Envoy Conditioning" (think bionic, only better, much better). There's a reason he can take (and dish out) a beating, There are also consequences to his actions; he's not just some Superman who breezes through every conflict. There are some 'adult' parts to the tale, so those montioring children's reading may wish to read the book themselves first - there's a particuarly gruesome (but ENTIRELY in context) instrumental rape scene that may disturb the more sensitive reader, but you don't read these books for fluffy bunnies and unicorns (okay, the unicorns, but not the bunnies).... Recommend.
on 18 October 2010
I've been unable to put this book down for the duration of the read. The plot represents a great who-dunnit with a twist that makes The Sixth Sense look like a draw-by-numbers.
Underpinning what is essentially a detective novel is incredible Sci-Fi concepts. I don't tend to read a huge amount of the genre but this had me complete engrossed with plot and believability.
I would recommend this book to people who enjoy a complex thriller and imaginative ideas.
on 6 October 2002
Altered Carbon is an extremely good example of the rising group of British Cyberpunk novels, as led by the likes of Michael Marshall Smith (this novel is very reminiscent of 'Spares'). It combines a great sci-fi setting and superb eye for intricate detail with breathtaking nihilistic thriller pace. Packed with shockingly violent action set pieces and embittered realistic characters, Altered Carbon is an incredibly involving read.
The novel leads off with a punch, as the cynic Ex-con Takeshi Kovacs and his partner get blown away very violently by the police in a raid. This highly irregular start is solved when the main plot idea of Altered Carbon is revealed: Human minds can now be uploaded into data networks, and then sent across the stars to be downloaded into new bodies.
Due to Kovacs' military background, he gets transported to earth and downloaded into an aging chainsmoker, in order to solve a murder case. An extremely rich three hundred year old businessman has been killed, and after his resurrection cannot remember why he has died. Kovacs is called onto the case, and
is drawn into a sordid mass of sex, violence and drugs revolving around the death.
For a first time novelist, Richard Morgan has done an incredible job in creating a truly believable future world, full of bizarre and intriguing technological wonders and a run-down earth culture that begs for further exploration. The Language and superb prose sear throughout, and although the end is slightly off-pace, the novel as a whole is excellent.
The novel is not a classic, and I don't think itwill end up being considered as Morgan's best work. But it is an extremely good introduction to a solid writer who should be expected to influence the field strongly for a long time to come. He'll produce better, later, but for now Altered Carbon is a great book to start appreciating the up and coming work of Richard Morgan.
Ever since I saw Blade Runner as a kid, I've been in love with the idea of blending science-fiction with crime, and this is a totally compelling mix of the two. Set about 500 years in the future, the story follows Takeshi Kovacs, a former space marine who has been "resleeved" to investigate a suicide on Earth. You see, in the future, one's mind or consciousness can be digitized and stored in "stacks" implanted in the base of your skull. If you commit a crime, your stack is removed and placed in storage for the duration of your sentence (usually decades or centuries), and then you are "resleeved" in a new body. Of course, resleeving costs, and for many people, a new body is like a new car or new house, with monthly payments to keep up lest your body get repossessed...
The flip side of this is that dying is only a temporary thing-unless your stack has been somehow destroyed and there's no backup, then you're subject to "RD" (real death). And if you've got enough money to get into cloning and data storage, one can live a virtually endless and seamless life. It's one of these "Meths" (after Methuselah, just one example of the excellent creation of slang in the book), who has Takeshi remanded and "needlecast" (digitally freighted) from offworld to investigate his alleged suicide in Bay City (aka San Francisco). Takeshi had been in prison, having been captured as a mercenary in a vibrantly kinetic prologue.
The meth, Bancroft, is one of the future elite, weaving elaborate corporate and political webs with others of his kind. Apparently he committed suicide a few weeks ago, but he's convinced it was murder. He's paid heftily to have Kovacs released and resleeved to investigate his death and what happened in the 48 hours leading up to it-48 hours that elapsed between his last stack backup and his temporary death. This is a great setup, as we have a reluctant protagonist grudgingly working on a case for a sinister Bancroft, quickly getting caught up with Bay City PD, Bancroft's hyper-sexy wife, and all kinds of foes.
It's an extremely convoluted tale, with lots of double-crossing, plot twists, hidden agendas, sexual tension (and outright graphic sex), dry tough guy humor, and excellent action sequences. It's so jam-packed it almost gets overwhelming at times, and one wishes Morgan had been able to trim just a little bit here and there. However, he's built a very intriguing and nasty future earth, where-as one might well imagine-a lot of the technology gets channeled into the sex trade. This is great pulp fiction, with great characters, including my favorite: the AI Hendrix Hotel. It's a hotel that runs itself using artificial intelligence, making for a hilarious, yet plausible, character. This is a great genre-blending debut, let's hope the sequel (Broken Angels) is as good.
Good new science fiction writers are far between, but Richard Morgans debut novel "Altered Carbon" is a piece of work that any seasoned SF novelist could be proud of. From a novice, it's downright amazing.
We're in the 26th. century, and minds can be digitized, virtually negating death. Everybody has their mind constantly backed up to a small almost indestructible "stack" implanted in their spine. If your body gets killed, your mind can be downloaded to a new body, one grown for that purpose or one taken over from somebody less fortunate. Spare bodies are not available to the poor. Go broke, and you could easily find your body being reposessed (giving a whole new meaning to that word).
In this world Takeshi Kovacs is one of the toughest, an envoy, specially trained to have his mind beamed across interstellar space and decanted into a new body wherever trouble is brewing. And this time trouble is on earth, where a really tricky murder case involving some of the most powerful people on the planet needs his particular brand of talent.
The story's structure is classic noir detective, with robots, AI's and some very high-tech weapons thrown in. Great ideas and sudden plot twists burst from the pages as Kovacs tries to make sense of the case in the time-honored PI fashion: Thrust yourself in there, and see who takes a hit at you.
And he certainly manages to stir up some trouble, all the while remaining an interesting, likeable and very understandable human being. You're with him and you feel for him all the way.
A crucial feature of the detective story is of course the dames, and they are magnificently present in this book also. Beautiful, strong and always with their own plans, mostly unknown to Kovacs. One police woman is especially interested in his fate, because he wears the body of her boyfriend.
This book is a tremendous page turner, and I certainly swallowed it whole. I is continued in Morgans second novel "Broken Angels", which also has Kovacs as its main character.
Ever since reading William Gibson's SPRAWL TRILOGY (NEUROMACER, COUNT ZERO & MONALISA OVERDRIVE) had I to come across such powerful yet poetic prose. The myriad of voices echoing from a future dystopia...
Recommended to everyone - especially William Gibson's fans (trying to make do with his latest, well, dyspeptic novels...)
on 30 August 2014
I bought this on the basis of the positive reviews and was not disappointed. Its a solid piece of work that keeps your interest throughout. The main character is a real diamond with few scruples and his actions are 'refreshing' in comparison some other heroes I have followed. Well done Mr Morgan, keep up the good work.
on 31 July 2013
...in a really messed up version of the future where your body is a vehicle on Hire Purchase, and your Brain is there to regulate the endocrine system.
(Another reccomendation from the elusive BOB)
This is definately a book that you want to come back to as the ideas just keep stacking up as you follow the main charaters deeper. The character Kovacs remains an intimate stranger throughout the story, you identify with him on many levels and yet who is he, what is he, is he? (no that wasn't a typo) remains ever distant.
If you enjoy complex, twisty, and philosophical then you'll really enjoy this - but beware it aint for the faint hearted... it gets pretty dark at times.
In case your wondering: I only give out the 5 star rating for a book I read more than once and whose concepts linger long after I've put my Kindle down.