Altered Carbon

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.

The final verdict: 10/10

For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe

14 commentaires:

Anonymous said...

It's been some time since I read them now but I distinctly remember being pretty disappointed with the 2nd book. It had its moments but on the whole was something of a let down.
The 3rd book, in my opinion, is better than the second but still doesn't come close to the first one.
That being said, I still find a lacklustre Richard Morgan book better than most other genre authors.

Mathias Johansson said...

Aye, hit me like that too. I do think the two others hold the candle even higher, Kovacs is hard not to like even if his constant hostility can get a bit frustrating sometimes

Ryan said...

Morgan's one of my very favorite authors. I wonder, Pat, if you would like The Steel Remains better on a second read. I think I just rather enjoyed it the first time round, but the second time I thought it was amazing.

Alec said...

Absolutely great read. Can't recommend it enough myself. Although the other 2 takeshi books don't deserve 10s imo.

Eric said...

altered carbon i couldn't put down. The next in the series I can't manage to pick up for longer than an hour. I don't know what it lacks, but it lacks something that the first had in abundance.

Anonymous said...

Agreed Pat. I too read The Steel Remains first and was blown away by how much better Altered Carbon is. Excellent stuff.

Ryan said...

Sort of sorry to double post, but I'd be curious as to how people compare Altered Carbon and Morgan's other book, 13. (It is called Black Man in some countries) I thought that it was not as good as Altered Carbon, but probably better than the two other Kovacs books.

Ed S. said...

I vastly preferred the Kovacs books, even though the latter two were weaker. Black Man in comparison from what I recall was rather plodding with not much being accomplished by the characters. In fact very late in the book we literally sit down with one one the villains who has to explain everything to us that has been happening because after a few hundred pages we really don't have a clue. Reminded me of a bad mystery novel.

I'm probably alone in this but I think Morgan peaked with his first novel and has been very slowly sliding down hill ever since. I do give him credit for versatility and a willingness to take risks with his books. Most authors having written "Tarzan of the Apes" would have been content to simply churn out endless sequels.

Tristin said...

I loved Altered Carbon. The other two Kovacs are ok. I also really enjoyed Black Man (Thirteen) and Market Forces.

Anonymous said...

I loved Altered Carbon. AS much as you did. The otehr 2 Kovac books are worth your time, but they are different from AC. One is more of a war novel, the other is just, weirder. The Noir feel really is confined to AC. 13 (Black Man) is another universe, but I really really liked it. As someone above said, it's nearly as good as AC.

Time for me to read The Steel Remains and Market Forces.

Martin S.

Anonymous said...

I loved Altered Carbon. AS much as you did. The otehr 2 Kovac books are worth your time, but they are different from AC. One is more of a war novel, the other is just, weirder. The Noir feel really is confined to AC. 13 (Black Man) is another universe, but I really really liked it. As someone above said, it's nearly as good as AC.

Time for me to read The Steel Remains and Market Forces.

Martin S.

Andrew said...

I'm very glad that you liked the book - Altered Carbon is one of my favorites. I wasn't as impressed with the 2nd book, but I haven't gotten to book 3 yet. I also recommend Thirteen (or Black Man, if you live in the UK), which I really enjoyed.

Anonymous said...

It's funny how opinions can be so different. Generally I have been agreeing with Pat, but for me Altered Carbon did not work. It was better that Black Man and also quite a entertaining to read, but otherwise...I felt that Altered Carbon was a kind of raymond chandler/philip marlowe-type book with stereotyped characters and quite a predictable storyline; only difference was the surroundings but for me that wasn't enough to save the book.

Anonymous said...

Interested to read comments here.. I read Steel Remains, thought it was OK, not the best I've ever read, but good enough to check out AC.. which completely blew me away.

But then, (and this is where I seem to differ from the other readers here) I thought the other two Kovacs books got increasingly better.. was very sad to hear there are no more Kovcas books planned.

Haven't read 13, but read Market forces lately and wasn't a big fan.