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An astonishing accomplishment
on 16 June 2010
I have read The Steel Remains, the same author's foray into fantasy, and enjoyed it so I figured it was high time to test out the genre which he apparently writes his best work in!
Altered Carbon is the first in a series involving Takeshi Kovacs, a former Envoy, which is a futuristic version of an SAS trooper - designed as a combination of shock troop, spy and assassin. This is a world where people are "resleeved" using their stacks; essentially as long as their stacks are intact at the moment of death, they can be brought back into a free body:
"Poor Death, no match for the mighty altered carbon technologies of data storage and retrieval arrayed against him. Once we lived in terror of his arrival. Now we flirt outrageously with his sombre dignity..."
At the start of the novel Takeshi is resleeved into the body of a former cop and hired by a 'meth' (long-lived humans who retain the same body for centuries through cloning techniques) called Bancroft to investigate the circumstances surrounding his death. From there Takeshi is thrown into a far-reaching mystery that he has to solve before he and those dragged along with him are terminated with Real Death.
One of the reasons I have hesitated in the past about picking up science fiction novels is because I wasn't sure I would find it easy to understand the science element in the book. I am pleased to report that in this book Morgan deals with some extremely interesting scientific concepts, but in every case they are couched in terms that could realistically occur in a near future of our world. Resleeving into new bodies, taking phonecalls in virtual reality, futuristic soldiers that are geared up with neurachem which helps them to respond to combat situations - all of these concepts are written in a manner that is easy to comprehend and very believable.
The story truly grips and does not relinquish that grip until the explosive finale. The pacing is stunning - starting with a bang and only increasing the dizzying speed as each page is turned. And yet this speed of pacing does not detract from the characterisation, which is smooth and very effective. In fact, I was amazed by the skill that Morgan demonstrated in presenting these characters, since their physical attributes were far less important thanks to resleeving - all of his work in developing the characters had to be through dialogue and mannerisms as opposed to merely describing what they looked like (the mark of a lazier author, in my opinion).
When you consider that this was Morgan's first novel, it is truly astonishing what he achieved over the course of five hundred pages. In Takeshi Kovacs we have a genuine anti-hero - a guy who manages to leave a trail of devastation in his wake whatever his good intentions, and who does not mind flouting the law as he does it. The noir thriller within the pages is tautly written and gives great payback. All in all, this was a fantastic accomplishment and a book I most certainly do not regret picking up - in fact, I shall now be seeking out the further adventures of Kovacs in short order. Highly recommended and a great introduction to the sci fi genre.