I've had this book sitting there on my shelves for a few years. And since my latest foray into Richard Morgan territory didn't end up well, I wasn't in any hurry to give him another shot. The more fool me, of course. But everything surrounding my review of The Steal Remains sort of went down the crapper, especially when the Hype Files post went live while I was in Poland.
Still, I should have known better. And since I own everything Morgan has written thus far, I decided to bring Altered Carbon with my as I traveled around Southeast Asia. Let's just say that with all the rave reviews this novel has garnered over the years, my expectations were rather high. Although I didn't think he managed to do it with fantasy, with science fiction Richard Morgan can swing with the best of them. And he packs a powerful KO punch.
Simply put, Altered Carbon is definitely one of the best scifi novels I have read in my life. This seamless blend of science fiction/hard-boiled crime/cyberpunk novel is amazing. The more so when considering that this was Morgan's debut!
Here's the blurb:
In the twenty-fifth century, humankind has spread throughout the galaxy, monitored by the watchful eye of the U.N. While divisions in race, religion, and class still exist, advances in technology have redefined life itself. Now, assuming one can afford the expensive procedure, a person’s consciousness can be stored in a cortical stack at the base of the brain and easily downloaded into a new body (or “sleeve”) making death nothing more than a minor blip on a screen.
Ex-U.N. envoy Takeshi Kovacs has been killed before, but his last death was particularly painful. Dispatched one hundred eighty light-years from home, re-sleeved into a body in Bay City (formerly San Francisco, now with a rusted, dilapidated Golden Gate Bridge), Kovacs is thrown into the dark heart of a shady, far-reaching conspiracy that is vicious even by the standards of a society that treats “existence” as something that can be bought and sold. For Kovacs, the shell that blew a hole in his chest was only the beginning. . .
The noir setting is unforgettable. Morgan's depiction of 25st-century Earth is impeccable, and his eye for detail makes every scene leap off the pages. The many futuristic concepts are thought-provoking and keep the plot moving. The concept of sleeves, whereby an individual's consciousness and personality can be stored inside a brain and downloaded into another body, is just the beginning. Morgan's scifi debut resounds with so much depth, you'll be begging for more. Here's to hoping that the Takeshi Kovacs sequels will unveil more of what we were offered but a few tantalizing glimpses.
And yes, as great as the worldbuilding is, it's the fast pace Morgan maintains throughout Altered Carbon that truly makes this book this good. It reads like the best thrillers out there, and the author will keep you guessing till the very end.
Coming back from the dead can be rough.
The characterization is "top notch." First person narratives can be tricky sometimes, but it's hard not to like Takeshi Kovacs' no-nonsense style. There is a lot more to this character than meets the eye, and hopefully Morgan reveals more about his backstory and his past as an Envoy in the sequels. Though Kovacs ain't the most likeable of characters, it's all but impossible not to root for him as he tries to crack this case. And yet, as fun as it is to follow the misadventures of Takeshi Kovacs, Morgan came up with an impressive cast of secondary characters. Chief among them Kristin Ortega, but also Laurens and Miriam Bancroft, as well as Reileen Kawahara. And like Robin Hobb, Richard Morgan, at least in this book, somehow managed to give life and personality to minor characters that don't necessarily play great roles in the bigger scheme of things, yet they feel important in the scenes in which they appear.
Altered Carbon features a multilayered plot that will keep you guessing and second-guessing yourself till the epilogue. Then all is revealed and it all makes sense. Richard Morgan is a genius and came up with what I'd describe as a genre masterpiece.
Intelligent, intriguing, inventive, exciting; I could go on and on. I was a complete dumbass to let this book lie there, awaiting my attention. If, like me, you haven't read Altered Carbon, don't be a dumbass. Buy it, read it, love it!
Richard Morgan's Altered Carbon deserves the highest possible recommendation.