Altered Carbon (Takeshi Kovacs, #1)

By Richard K. Morgan

Rating: 4 stars

Takeshi Kovacs is a former Envoy, an elite military unit set up to maintain an interstellar empire run from Earth. At the beginning of the novel, Kovacs is killed on his homeworld, but this doesn’t stop many people in a world where everyone has a cortical stack implanted from birth which records their personality and memories. Kovacs wakes up to find himself in an unfamiliar body (sleeve) in the employ of one of the ultra-rich on Earth to solve the mystery of the “suicide” of his employer (who was re-sleeved immediately, but missing some of his most recent memories).

The world that Richard Morgan paints is pretty disturbing. Most people can’t afford to be resleeved during their lifetimes, but have insurance to resleeve them after they die. However, the experience of growing old, dying and then being reborn eventually puts people off, and only the ultra-rich can afford to be resleeved as they go along, accentuating the differences between the rich and poor.

The everyday folk resent the “Methuselahs” and so the police force takes only a cursory interest in the death of Kovacs’ employer, Bancroft. And we see evidence of corruption throughout the force, as well as the techniques that the Envoys used to enforce the rule of the Protectorate of Earth throughout the colony worlds.

There are some quite graphic scenes in the book as well, both of sex and of torture. The latter is particularly nasty because the same technology that allows human “souls” to be transferred between sleeves, can be used to download them into a virtual environment and torture them until they die. And then bring them back and do it all over again. That whole section left a nasty taste in my mouth, as it seemed to be there to just show how nasty and corrupt that the society was, and not for any plot reasons.

The mystery at the core of the book was interesting and kept me reading, along with Takeshi Kovacs himself. He proved to be a very interesting anti-hero, struggling with what he has done in the past and what he continues to do in order to get by in the world.

However, despite the relatively interesting plot, it was the backstory of the world and the few hints we got of Kovacs’ homeworld that were the most interesting, and something that I hope gets expanded in the sequels.

Book details

ISBN: 9780575081246
Publisher: Gollancz
Year of publication: 2002

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