June 14, 2008
Book Review By: Mr. Roboto
Author: Richard Morgan
Category: Cyberpunk Books
The next generation of cyberpunk has arrived… in 2002. Richard K. Morgan’s debut novel has brought forth a new era of cyberpunk literature that has already produced dividends from Ryan Span (Street: Empathy) and Mr. Morgan himself with two sequels and an unrelated book. JIVE Magazine has gone so far as to name him The New King of Cyberpunk Fiction. Even now, a movie is being made from this book (IMDb reference - Empty for now) due to be released in 2009.
Cyberpunk is said to have that “noir” atmosphere about it, borne of hardboiled detective tomes. Altered Carbon takes the noir factor and overclocks it to make it read like a detective novel. Or, maybe it’s a detective novel that takes the cyberpunk factor and overclocks it to make it read like a cyberpunk novel. However you want to look at it, Altered Carbon is a novel that needs to be read, then read several more times.
They wear their stacks on their sleeves. To better understand the premise of the novel, a quick overview of the key technologies featured…
First, you have “sleeves,” cloned bodies for when you die. For the sleeve, there’s the “stack,” a recording device that’s implanted at the base of your brain when you’re born. The stack records and stores your every thought, emotion, sensation, memory, etc. Your digitized brain can then be uploaded to virtuality, or transmitted (”needlecast”) across the galaxy, where a new sleeve awaits your arrival on another planet.
If your meat body dies, the stack is removed and “re-sleeved” (implanted into a new clone body) so you can continue your existence. That’s IF you have the insurance, loving relatives, or a sleeve-fund ready to pay for the new bod. Otherwise, you go into storage, possibly for centuries. Also, the stack itself can be corrupted or outright destroyed, resulting in “real death.” Some are fortunate, and rich, enough to have their stacks backed up like you would back up your hard drives. Backups are done every couple of days, so if your stack is destroyed, the backup is re-sleeved and you loose a day or two of memories. For someone who has the cash, they can have several sleeves at the ready along with a backed up stack, theoretically enabling them to live forever. Those who have lived through several sleeves are known as Methuselahs, or simply “Meths.”
One such Meth is Laurens Bancroft. Bancroft recently had his head destroyed, along with his stack. Because he had a backup of his stack done a couple of days before, he was able to be re-sleeved, but has no memory of the events leading up to his “death.” The police said Bancroft committed suicide, but he doesn’t believe them and hires an outsider to conduct his own investigation. That outsider’s name: Takeshi Lev Kovacs.
The universe through Kovacs’ eyes. Kovacs is a former U.N. “Envoy,” a form of super-soldier who undergoes special spiritual/psychological training to prepare them to adapt new new bodies quickly for interstellar deployment. Often these new bodies are augmented with neuro-chemical implants to enhance their sleeve’s senses and abilities. Because of their training Envoys are banned from holding government jobs on any world and tend to turn to a life of crime upon leaving the corps. Kovacs was serving time in storage for an unspecified crime when he gets needlecast to Earth and re-sleeved as Elias Ryker, a Bay City (San Francisco) cop, to investigate Bancroft’s death.
From the prologue, where Kovacs is killed, to the end of the novel, we get to experience Kovacs’ adventure through his senses. In a way, this book may actually be Kovacs’ stack transmitted back from 500 years in the future. During his investigation, we see how his Envoy training serves him, especially during a particularly nasty torture in virtuality.
Catholics… or How religion poisons the future. An interesting thread in the novel concerns Resolution 653, a case in a U.N. court where a dead Catholic is going to be subpoenaed and made to testify by re-sleeving. The Vatican has decried re-sleeving as blasphemy, claiming that a human soul is not saved on the stack but goes directly to God upon death. About the only good news about this is that Catholics are easy targets for murder, since they won’t be re-sleeved to testify against their attackers.
This book needs to be imprinted upon your stack. If you preferred to read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? over watching Blade Runner, Altered Carbon is something to put on your “must read” list. Just like reading cyberpunk novels? Here you go. Want to see what the next generation of cyberpunk fiction is like? Take a look. Prefer detective novels over cyberpunk? You’re at the wrong site, but Altered Carbon is definitely noir enough for you.