January 5, 2019

Altered Carbon

A mish-mash that works

Morgan has borrowed ideas from a number of other sci-fi, detective potboiler and consipiracy thrillers and pulled it all together into a single book. It works, after a fashion. There's a bit of Arthur C Clarke, a lot of Peter F Hamilton, some good old Gumshoe stuff like Raymond Chandler and finally, some

The story is set about a few hundred years into the future, and humanity has invented (discovered? There's some hints that this technology was an alien artifact) a mechanism to store consciousness in a device called a stack. The stack can be inserted into a body, called a sleeve, at the base of the skull. Travelling still takes time, but data transfer has made travelling superfluous; people simply transfer their stack to a sleeve at the destination for near instantaneous travel.

Using this mechanism, folks have settled a number of worlds across a section of the galaxy. Sleeves are still transported as freight to various planets, and at the destination, people are downloaded into the sleeves, a mechanism called needle-cast. Data transfer across worlds seems to be instantaneous, unconstrained by trivialities such as the speed of light, though.

Because of the stack-sleeve separation, folks essentially can be immortal. Upon sleeve death, called organic damage, the stack is inserted into a new sleeve, assuming folks can afford it. The government provides one sleeve to each person, which can be marginally compatible (age, sex, race, pick any one). More sleeves need to be paid for. The super rich clone their bodies and are immortal.

Anyway, this is the premise. The story centres around Takeshi Kovacs, a UN envoy and veteran of dozens of battles across many worlds, now in storage waiting to be called up when needed. Laurens Bancroft, one of those super-rich on Earth, finds himself dead. Real-dead, sleeve destroyed. He is restored from backup, and cannot remember the last 2 days leading up to his death, and consequently, does not know how he died, or who killed him. Cops are convinced it is a suicide, but Bancroft thinks otherwise. So he pulls up Kovacs to investigate the death, and catch the perpetrator.

What follows is a peeling open of multiple layers of a conspiracy going several layers deep, with multiple seamy interludes, and all at a manic pace.

A couple of points of irritation. A number of very basic concepts are not explained at depth, but are referenced throughout, and are central to the story. This requires repeated back-and-forth trying to understand what was being said. The motivation behind the actions of a number of characters is insufficiently explained. In fact, it seems very unlikely they would actually act the way given how their individual characters have ben built up.

On the whole, it is a very entertaining read, which is possibly why Netflix optioned it into a hit series.