Book Review: “Altered Carbon”
Bottom line, up front: Altered Carbon is a good book. Not just kinda good or good-for-a-debut-novel good, but “Holy shit, I can’t put this thing down!” good.
Despite being a big fan of futurist and transhuman fiction, I initially avoided Altered Carbon due to my disinclination for mystery novels. It was only after one particularly long stretch of limited Internet access that I finally gave the loneliest novel in my Kindle library a chance, and I was quickly hooked. If Philip K. Dick can be said to have pioneered the merger between pulp noir and science fiction in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Richard Morgan has shown just how much further the genre can go with Altered Carbon.
The book takes place several hundred years into a quasi-hard sci-fi future and is seen from the eyes of Takeshi Kovacs, the ex-soldier, ex-special operative, ex-fugitive protagonist. In keeping with its pulp noir inspiration, Kovacs finds himself released from jail at the behest of the rich businessman, Laurens Bancroft, in order to investigate a suicide. So far, so boring. Right?
But where the pulp noir grows stale, the transhuman sci-fi kicks entirely new life into it. The suicide that Kovacs is being hired to investigate is none other than Bancroft’s own. In a world where downloading, backing-up, and transferring one’s consciousness is not just possible, but is actually normal, the rules of the game as far as mysteries go are completely turned on their head. Taking the old tropes of hard-nosed cops, cruel gangsters, double-crossing, and gritty cityscapes, Altered Carbon breathes new life into them with the help of some transhumanist inspiration and more than a little bit of cyberpunk grit.
Perhaps just as importantly, Morgan fleshes out the setting of Altered Carbon in a way that is almost too thorough to describe. Everything from the language to the culture to the technology and its philosophical ramifications seems to have been explored. Instead of clubbing you over the head with the details of his world, Morgan subtly weaves them in throughout the story, allowing the reader to develop a natural grasp of them. Each idea he introduces though, be it sentient hotels which have bought ownership of themselves or memetic viruses capable of destroying one’s mind, is so rich that you would almost welcome it if Morgan had clubbed you over the head with it.
With its blend of innovative ideas, mind-bending mystery, gripping action, and excellent writing, Altered Carbon can easily be called a classic of futurist/transhumanist science fiction. If you are the type of person that enjoyed the writing of Stephenson, Gibson, or Dick, I’d strongly recommend buying this novel and burying your nose in it at the first chance.
Buy Altered Carbon (Takeshi Kovacs Novels) on Amazon
Buy Altered Carbon (Takeshi Kovacs Novels) [Kindle Edition] on Amazon