Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan

After being fatally shot in the chest, Takeshi Kovacs finds himself resleeved into a body in Bay City, wanted for a specific job by a very notable client. It would be stupid to decline, so now it’s up to him to solve a mystery that everyone else believes isn’t there. The streets are dangerous, yet the conspiracy Takeshi begins to unfold is even more deadly, taking him deeper into the dark heart of society.

(WARNING: This review contains minor spoilers.)

Rating: 2 out of 5.

After loving the Netflix adaption of Altered Carbon and being disappointed at its cancellation, I just had to read the source material in the hopes I’d feel the same amount of interest. The world of Takeshi Kovacs wasn’t a pretty one, despite death itself all but abolished by the technological wonder of being able to download the human consciousness into stacks that can subsequently be placed inside bodies. I think there’s a lot to be said for Morgan’s depiction of such a cyberpunk future; overcoming death didn’t erase any problems, but only created new ones, especially when it came to social hierarchy and personal identity. Does our skin make us who we are, or is it our experiences and memories that define us? It gave glimpses into lives that were affected by the resleeving process, of what it was like for a family member to be reunited with their loved ones while looking like a stranger. I liked how grim it was in that regard, however I couldn’t help but struggle through it. I find that science fiction often goes over my head, especially when the writing tries to be too in-depth about the technological advances of its age, like throwing in complicated words is somehow supposed to make it make sense, when it tends to do the opposite. I feel if it wasn’t for the TV show, I would’ve been a lot more lost on the whole thing, and while I tried not to compare it too much to the show, I ultimately failed in doing so. There’s several differences that worked in the show’s favour, adding charm and tightening an otherwise confusing plot that constantly jumped around.

I didn’t exactly hate it, but by now my opinion should be clear: I preferred the show, and have no qualms in detailing why, so this review may not be everyone’s cup of tea. The character of Takeshi wasn’t really all that interesting when compared to his on-screen counterpart, as it became obvious early on that much of the compelling history the show implemented wasn’t there, resulting in a bland protagonist that was ten times more of a simple thug-for-hire with some professional training. My first impression of him was a typical roll-my-eyes moment as he ogled a woman’s breasts, however, I admit I didn’t mind the sex scenes so much (one in particular amused me to no end). If anything, everyone else held more of a presence than Takeshi himself, especially Trepp and Ortega; both certainly flawed but exhibited strength. I suppose you could mistake the relationship between Ortega and Takeshi as romantic, but it really wasn’t, and that was refreshing at least.

It’s said that you should stick to what you like, and I have to disagree with that way of thinking. I may not be a hardcore sci-fi lover, but if I didn’t branch out and explore other genres, then I wouldn’t discover those gems out there that resonate with me. Sadly, this wasn’t one of them, yet I can’t say I didn’t try.

In conclusion: I wanted to love Altered Carbon just as much as the TV show; a crazy and violent journey through an existence where death wasn’t part of the equation. While the show stuck pretty close to the book with its impressive world-building and Bancroft plot outline, it significantly improved on some aspects that were lacking. I unfortunately didn’t connect with Takeshi, I found him rather hollow here, the side characters much more full of life. The pacing that should’ve been exciting due to its never slowing down was more confusing than anything else, and I often had to spend some minutes trying to recall what was even happening. I have no idea what comes into play in the next two books of the trilogy, and I’m pretty sure I’m not going to find out.

Notable Quote:

The mind does interesting things under extreme stress. Hallucination, displacement, retreat. Here in the Corps, you will learn to use them all, not as blind reactions to adversity, but as moves in a game.

© Red Lace 2020

Goodreads ~ Twitter

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