|Author||Richard K. Morgan|
|Genre||Science fiction, mystery|
|Publisher||Victor Gollancz Ltd|
|28 February 2002|
|Media type||Print (hardback & paperback)|
416 pp (Hardback),|
|Followed by||Broken Angels|
Altered Carbon is a 2002 science fiction novel by British writer Richard K. Morgan. Set in a future in which interstellar travel is facilitated by transferring consciousnesses between bodies ("sleeves"), it follows the attempt of Takeshi Kovacs, a former U.N. elite soldier turned private investigator, to investigate a rich man's death. It is followed by the sequels Broken Angels and Woken Furies.
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In the novel's futuristic world, human personalities can be stored digitally and downloaded into new bodies, called "sleeves". Most people have cortical stacks in their spinal columns that store their consciousness. If their body dies, their stack can be stored indefinitely. Catholics are not resleeved, as they believe that the soul goes to Heaven when they die, and so would not pass on to the new sleeve. This makes Catholics easy targets for murder, since killers know their victim may not be resleeved to testify. A UN resolution to alter this legal position forms one strand of the novel's plot, to allow the authorities to sleeve a deceased Catholic woman temporarily to testify in a murder trial.
While most people can afford to get resleeved at the end of their lives, they are unable to update their bodies and most go through the full aging process each time, which discourages most from resleeving more than once or twice. So while normal people can live indefinitely in theory, most choose not to. Only the wealthy are able to acquire replacement bodies on a continual basis. The long-lived are called Meths, a reference to the Biblical figure Methuselah. The very rich are also able to keep copies of their minds in remote storage, which they update regularly. This ensures that even if their stack is destroyed, they can be resleeved.
A Meth named Laurens Bancroft has, apparently, committed suicide in Bay City (formerly San Francisco). When he is resleeved and his destroyed stack restored, its 48-hour back-up schedule means he has no memories of the previous two days. Convinced he was murdered, Bancroft hires Takeshi Kovacs to investigate.
Kovacs is an ex-Envoy, a military unit formed to cope with the challenge of interstellar warfare. Faster-than-light travel is only possible by subspace transmission, called needlecasting, of a digitally stored consciousness to "download centers" where resleeving into physical bodies can be carried out. Transmitting normal soldiers in this way would severely inhibit their effectiveness, since they would have to cope with a new body and an unknown environment while fighting. To combat this, Envoy training emphasises mental techniques necessary to survive in different bodies over physical strength, and the sleeve they are transmitted into has special neuro-chemical sensors that amplify the power of the five senses, intuition and physical capabilities to superhuman degrees. The effectiveness of the Envoy Corps' training is such that Envoys are banned from holding government positions on most worlds. Kovacs is persistently wracked by his memories of the action taken by the Envoy Corps in a battle on the planet Sharya and especially by the military debacle on Innenin, in which the Corps suffered extensive casualties after their stacks were infected and driven into self-destructive insanity with Rawling 4851, a virus that corrupts digital information.
Kovacs, killed in the novel's prologue and stored in digital form, is downloaded into a sleeve formerly inhabited by Bay City policeman Elias Ryker. The plot unfolds through Kovacs' narrative. Kovacs eventually solves the mystery, but only after a great deal of violence, including torture in virtual reality, which he is able to bear only because of his Envoy training.
Describing the book, Kirkus Reviews said that "The body count is high, the gadgetry pure genius, the sex scenes deliriously overwrought, and the worn cynicism thoroughly distasteful: a welcome return to cyberpunk's badass roots."
The book won the Philip K. Dick Award for Best Novel in 2003.
- "Altered Carbon". Penguin Random House. Retrieved 1 August 2018.
- Altered Carbon, Chapters 1-2.
- "Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan". Kirkus Reviews. December 1, 2002.
- "Netflix Orders 'Altered Carbon' Sci-Fi Series From Laeta Kalogridis & Skydance". Deadline. January 20, 2016. Retrieved January 20, 2016.
- Hibberd, James (December 4, 2017). "Altered Carbon: First teaser trailer for stunning Netflix sci-fi series". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved December 4, 2017.