Altered Carbon by Richard Morgan
Pbk, Gollancz, London, 2001
I think that first novels often have an edge that a writer finds difficult to attain in their career down the line. There may still be problems for them to work out but this is the book that they have slaved over the longest. I picked up this book, Altered Carbon, after having read Market Forces on a suggestion from Olman.
The novel is marketed as being in the "cyberpunk" genre. That got me to thinking what the hell is this genre and why is it so popular. If pressed, I could really only come up with Bill Gibson's and Bruce Sterling's work as the granddaddies of the style.
Cyberpunk (a portmanteau of cybernetics and punk) is a sub-genre of science fiction that focuses on advanced technology such as computers or information technology, usually coupled with some degree of breakdown in the social order. The plot of cyberpunk writing often centres on a conflict among hackers, artificial intelligences, and mega corporations, tending to be set within a near-future Earth, rather than the "outer space" locales prevalent in science fiction at the time of cyberpunk's inception. The cities of this future typically have dystopian characteristics, but are also marked by extraordinary energy and diversity. Much of the genre's "atmosphere" echoes film noir, and written works in the genre often use techniques from detective fiction.
The article then argues that cyberpunk has become passé and the genre has become postcyberpunk splitting in to many other forms (steampunk, biopunk, etc.). Nevertheless, this first novel from Richard Morgan falls squarely within the rubric described above.
Takeshi Kovacs is a ex-UN Envoy, a hyper trained shock troop for the UN Protectorate. The book opens with him in the middle of an offworld firefight alongside a women he loves. When he wakes, it is on Earth and inside a new "sleeve". In this world the humanity of a person is contained within a stack located at the base of the skull. When a person is killed they can be re-sleeved into a new body from their stack or from the latest back-up of their identity. The average person might be able to afford one or two re-sleeves in their life and possibly not even into an organic body but a synthetic. The rich can live for hundreds of years this way.
The novel is essentially a mystery. Kovacs is hired by an ultra-rich dude who wants to know why he needlessly blew his own head off with a shotgun. The cops have called it a suicide but he thinks it was murder. Kovacs new sleeve was a cop in Bay City where the action takes place and consequently he has to deal with all that persons problems as well.
The story is fairly complicated but the author manages to keep all the threads together while maintaining a fast pace. Other than a small section near the end of the book, I was really driven to keep reading to find out what happens in the next chapter. The world he created was consistently interesting and the crazy sci-fi action kept me engaged.
I'm excited to read the further adventures of Takeshi Kovacs in the following novels, Broken Angels and Woken Furies.