Altered Carbon (novel)

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Morgan, Richard K. Altered Carbon. London: Victor Gollancz Ltd, 2002. First in Takeshi Kovacs series, source of the TV series. Available as an audiobook from, one of our sources here.

From opening of Wikipedia entry: "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."[1]

A late cyberpunk work returning strongly to the (sub)genre's roots in the noir detective novel, more specifically of the US West-Coast variety. Of primary interest here for its examination of identity, continuity, and personality in different and even serial (quite literal) embodiments. There is as part of the premise and to some extent plot and dialog the question out of the STAR TREK universe of what might happen to a soul, if people have souls, when one is uploaded, possibly transmitted, and downloaded (in Star Trek the issue involves the transporter and includes the question if transportation involves a kind of secular and routine death and resurrection).[2][3]

The dialog in Altered Carbon dismisses issues of soul and favors the importance of embodiment on who one is (cf. in this "Masks" and "No Woman Born"). However, in the over-arching action of Altered Carbon, the "consciousness" of people move(s) from bodies to bodies with continuity of personality, as in a work such as Frederik Pohl's The Annals of the Heechee, where "vastened" characters go into "gigabit space" for the convenience of the story and without bringing up issues of metaphysics, or physics, or any details of the technology involved. (Cf. and contrast also Pohl's "The Day the Icicle Works Closed.")

With these movements among the significantly named "sleeves" — as in in Paul Simon's "The Boxer," "After changes upon changes," they (the characters) "are more or less the same; / After changes [... they] are more or less the same."[4] (The possibility of growth and character changes are handed in Woken Furies, which see.)

Appropriately in a cyberpunk work, and helping to make it one, there are also improvements on human bodies with biomechanical techniques; Altered Carbon and its sequels usefully incorporate into the story the importance of our naturally-evolved human biochemistry and the lab-developed sort. Of "sex-n-violence," the current two sequels to Altered Carbon are more notable for violence, but in Altered Carbon itself the fairly extended sex scenes (and the themes of sexuality and sexual exploitation) reinforce the idea of humans as bodies and organic while at the same time emphasizing the power of endorphins and pheromones, both naturally occurring and human-made, augmented, and/or elicited: transgressing boundaries in interesting ways and at least figuratively braiding together what were once opposed opposites ("deconstructing binaries").

For the theme of containment within a cybernetic/physical environment, who (sic) is also a character in the novel, see the AI "automatic hotel," The Hendrix,[5] in Bay City (once San Francisco), in the world of the novel as well as in the novel itself, named for Jimi Hendrix,[6] and gendered male, if somewhat androgynous, in the audiobook. Cf. and contrast the definite female-gendering in the audiobook of the construct AI that manages and is called "Dig 301," a place for the archeological study of a Martian site in Woken Furies.

NOTE: The tone is somewhat nuanced, but the three novels (so far) generally come across as negative on religions, especially organized religion. Given the assumption of transferable disembodied Mind and personality and communication faster than light, some readers might want more nuance.

(As with the other novels of the series, Altered Carbon is "NC-17" in US film classification: adult literature in terms of explicit violence and quite explicit sex.)

TV series reviewed by Vlad B. Jecan, SFRA Review #327 (January-February [Winter] 2019): 78-80.

RDE, Initial compiler, 11July19, 7Aug19, 15-20Aug19, 15Sep20