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Editorial Reviews

Why we think it's Essential: Hardwire William Gibson into Dashiell Hammett and you get the unique universe that has earned Richard K. Morgan a legion of Audible fans. Todd McLaren wisely taps into the noir undercurrent for his narration - moving the action forward at a steady clip, letting the characterizations do the work, and treating high concepts like "sleeving" (downloading your personality into a new body) with a dead-pan legitimacy that makes them feel all the more real. — Ed Walloga

Publisher's Summary

In the 25th 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 180 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.

Altered Carbon is the first Takeshi Kovacs novel. Don't miss the sequels Broken Angels and Woken Furies.
©2003 Richard K. Morgan (P)2005 Tantor Media, Inc.

Critic Reviews

"This far-future hard-boiled detective story is a lovely virtual-reality romp." (Booklist) "Fast-paced, densely textured, impressive....Morgan's 25th-century Earth is convincing, while the questions he poses about how much Self is tied to body chemistry and how the rich believe themselves above the law are especially timely." (Publishers Weekly)

What members say

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  • Overall

Altered Carbon

Sex, violence and drugs become a strange brew in this futuristic novel with the premise that what we are can be contained in a small device implanted into any body. The hero, Takashi Kovacs, is a detective (of sorts). His neural systems are enhanced.
When people die in this future, except for Catholics, they can be brought back in another body if their device (called a stack) is not destroyed. Catholics do not have stacks.
So Kovacs, who is disliked by almost everyone in the novel, is called by a rich man, who believes his suicide was murder.
With more plot twists than a tub full of snakes, the story unfolds complete with some of the nastiest villans around.
If you like plenty of violence and strange machinations, read this novel. The writing is colorful and interesting and the plot moves along wihtout undue burdening by explantion of the science, politics and culutres involved.
The ending has a twisted nobility that I found appealing.
This is not high art, but it is darn good listening.

45 of 45 people found this review helpful

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  • PF
  • 07-13-07

Future Marlowe Noir

Brilliantly imagined, carefully worked out, and intensely detailed, Morgan's somewhat Philip-Marlowe-ish future is gripping. His core premise is that death has been (mostly) conquered; most deaths can be undone by re-"sleeving" the dead person's consciousness, or "stack," in a different body. He's worked through a consistent vision of how much (and how little) that alters society, conduct, and people -- exactly the sort of exercise good sci-fi does best. If you like Sam Spade and thoughtful SF, you'll like Altered Carbon.

35 of 35 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Very good - very long as well

I really enjoyed this book and recommend it. It is a Raymond Chandler-esque sci-fi private eye story. A couple of caveats. It was graphically violent. The violence was appropriate but close going over the top at some points. In the beginning I worried the book was going to be none-stop blood and smashed faces and I considered stopping, but I'm glad I didn't. There is very graphic sex as well, which isn't unusual, but somehow it feels funny having a guy read it to me! The book is so long that I wished I had a cheat sheet of the cast of characters, as sometimes he'd start talking about someone and I wouldn't remember who it was for quite a while. Overall, I'd call this Blade Runner meets The Big Sleep.

34 of 34 people found this review helpful

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Cyberpunk meets noir thriller

This was pretty good contemporary cyberpunk. Morgan doesn't have William Gibson's way with words, but his characters are more interesting and his pacing and action scenes are much better.

There is the potential for a space opera here - the world of Altered Carbon is a far future in which humans have spread to the stars, and the protagonist, Takeshi Kovacs, was born on another planet, but this story takes place entirely on Earth, in "Bay City" (what used to be San Francisco). That and all the Japanese names and yakuza and such seem to be conscious nods to Gibson.

Kovacs is your basic bad dude ex-commando killing machine with a tortured past. He used to work for "Envoy Corps"; in this far future, the U.N. is apparently the interplanetary government and it trains super-soldiers as "Envoys" to go do all the usual killing and pacifying for what turns out to be corporate interests and rich people. Same as it ever was. Kovacs gets disillusioned and turns rogue, and the book opens with a criminal enterprise he and his girlfriend are running going very badly. This is how we are introduced to the most interesting technology in this world: "resleeving." Basically, human minds can now be digitized and transferred ("sleeved") in new bodies. People convicted of crimes can be sentenced to virtual "storage" — your mind goes into a data bank for some period of time (potentially centuries) and in the meantime, someone else can buy the right to walk around in your body. Mix this with artificial intelligences and virtual worlds and you can see the possibilities for cons, grand schemes, and cunning plans is enormous.

Kovacs winds up on Earth, freed from his virtual sentence following his botched enterprise in the prologue, because a very rich "Methuselah" (someone who's been resleeved repeatedly for hundreds of years) wants him to do a job for him. Mr. Bancroft died, violently, a few days ago, and upon being resleeved from his backup storage, he of course has no memory of what happened prior to his last backup. The police say either he killed himself or his wife killed him. Bancroft refuses to believe either scenario, and wants Kovacs to find out who actually blew his head off and why.

This is where Altered Carbon crosses cyberpunk with a hard-boiled detective novel. Kovacs has to go looking for clues, and of course runs into all sorts of people with conflicting interests all of whom threaten him or bribe him to do what they want. The way in which he eventually uncovers what's really going on, gets caught up in an extensive web and snagged on multiple hooks and conflicting obligations, was quite skillfully plotted. He eventually unleashes bloody vengeance as is typical for this sort of story, and of course he runs up against multiple dangerous dames with whom he has a lot of graphically and sometimes laughably-described sex.

If you are fond of the "hard-boiled lone wolf bangs babes and carves a swath of bloody vengeance" genre, then Altered Carbon is the book for you. The whole digitized humans angle contains no ideas that haven't been floating around in cyberpunk for decades now, and certainly other cyberpunk novels have been written with a noir feel to them, but this is the best of the lot I have read recently.

There were some authorial indulgences (the sex scenes, the Jimi Hendrix AI-run hotel, and a whole lot of prostitutes) which are characteristic of a freshman SF novel (though I kind of liked the Hendrix). But overall, this paid tribute to its predecessors while not being wholly derivative, and I enjoyed it quite a lot, and wouldn't mind seeing a little more extra-solar SF next time.

19 of 19 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Sci-Fi actually made up of real people.

OK, for those who do not like sex in their reading leave NOW. It's not a major point of the story (this is not debbie does sci-fi), but it is integral to intereactions of a few characters and it shows the mentality of people who have many different versions of reality and the culture they are in. Basically, if you can get passed the fact the book actually shows how normal people are and act (ie we all curse and have sex), then you will find very interesting characters and a really good who done it sort of story. If you follow on to the other two books like I did, you will find an interesting universe that is severly self referential (pay attention in the book because things will come up later!).

I happen to really like the job this narrator did on the books as well (not the same guy on all three but this guy is my favorite Takeshi Kovachs), and I really think he was able to give life and personality to a story that is in essence, a recap of past events. It felt like someone was telling me a war story over drinks in a bar at times, and for me that's a good thing.

I really enjoy my sci fi scruffy and unrefined. If you do too then you will love this series.

PS. For those who shrank at the torture scene please realize that if you don't feel the weight of the torture it stops being the abborant act it truly is. So your gut reaction is exactly what the author was going for.

50 of 53 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Great Sci-Fi, not sanitized for your protection

An exciting read to unravel a unique crime. The story exposes us to a wide slice of future life, the "have" and the "have nots" and how their lives are incredibly differentiatied through technology. If you want to find deeper meaning, the story allows you to explore what makes an individual unique, and whether or not being in someone elses body changes who we are. We're also dragged through the gutter numerous times, so prudes or those seeking a sheltered existance beware. Good, but gritty sci-fi.

11 of 11 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Harder Than Gibson

The Takeshi Kovacs (pronounced Kovotch) novels have revitalised interest in the long-dormant cyberpunk genre. Mr. Morgan has created a believable future, with a wonderful anti-hero in the tradition of Philip Marlowe, Holden Caulfield, and Yancy Slide. This story has all of the action you'd expect from a work like DaVinci Code, but less slipshod and implausible. It's harder and more brutal than the early woks of Gibson, yet it maintains a three-dimensional quality rarely found in the sci-fi.

72 of 78 people found this review helpful

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This was recommended to me by a guy who accidentally bought it with a big stack of books from a 2nd hand bookstore...and was pleasantly surprised...

WARNING: This book contains some pretty...explicit sex, and...detailed violence.

If you made it past that...the premise may sound vaguely familiar...and maybe not earth-shattering...but trust me, this one is worth picking up. I was a little worried in the very beginning...but once Kovacs (the main character) is re-sleeved, the story just takes off and doesn't stop. The technology and concepts in the story are very cool, and there's PLENTY of action, but it's...the way the story is written that makes it so good. I found myself rooting for Kovacs...though, he's not really a "good guy"...but there really aren't any "good guys" in this story. Performance is very good.

8 of 8 people found this review helpful

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Sci -fi noir worthy of Blade Runner!

If you're a lover of the hard boiled private detective tales widely credited to pulp Dashiell Hammett stories, or if you're a lover of Sci-fi, I highly recommend you listen to this audiobook.

If you're a lover of both, I'm ticked off you didn't recommend this to me sooner.

11 of 12 people found this review helpful

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An Excellent Surprise

This author was recommended in a magazine article, which doesn't often carry much weight given the unknown differences between the writer and the reader of the article. But I needed a book for my Next Listen so I gave it a shot. Am so glad I did. If you are not a sci-fi fan, you can stop reading now, as this is a heavily weighted sci-fi version of a noir detective novel. Unlike many sci-fi authors who take pains to give background on the "new" world in which the story takes place, Morgan seems to take pleasure in teasing the reader with a flurry of words, concepts, historical events, and images that are unexplained and (often) confusing. As the story unfolds, however, bits and pieces are dropped so that the puzzle comes together slowly in the reader's consciousness. Maddening, and yet wonderful at the same time. The story rockets along with breathtaking action, steamy sex scenes, and gut wrenching violence, all described tastefully (yeah, I know--that seems unlikely, but it's true) under the circumstances. In the middle of this swift-flowing plot, Morgan casually drops a concept, or an image, or a reference to a historical event that the reader must store away for when it is explained later. Sometimes it isn't so much explanation as understanding by inference. This book was the most challenging in that regard since Anthony Burgess' Clockwork Orange (I didn't find the glossory in the back until I finished). It takes a bit of surrender to not let the unfamiliar stuff knock you out of the story flow. I have now downloaded 2 more of Morgan's works and look forward with a mixture of excitement and sadness to the end of Altered Carbon--sorry for it to be over, and excited to move on to another of Morgan's novels. Like Orson Scott Card's stuff, this is excellent writing that just happens to be science fiction. It may not have the extensive character development of a Card story, but it is hell on wheels in the action department. BTW, the narration is top flight as well, and provides an excellent immersion int he noir environment.

11 of 12 people found this review helpful