Altered Carbon is discussed a lot on ASOIAF forums and many other places around the internet as a science fiction book you absolutely must read. I wouldn’t personally put it in that category but there was quite a bit to enjoy.
Altered Carbon is set in a future where humans have been digitised. All our memories, personalities, thoughts and training can be stored digitally. Richard Morgan takes this idea and runs with it creating a huge wealth of interesting unintended consequences. The ultimate criminal punishment is erasure but conventional prison sentences are to be stacked, digitally stored, whilst someone else rents out and buys your body. Upon release you’re restored to whatever body your family can afford. The rich can effectively live forever using their vast wealth to buy clones which they simply transfer too upon death. AI has evolved to a point of self-awareness with our lead detective spending much of his time in a sentient hotel named after Jimi Hendrix..
The story itself is more traditional genre fare though, a hard-boiled detective novel. A very wealthy man named Bancroft is killed and then restored to a new body, but with the past 48 hours removed from his memory since that was when he was last automatically backed-up. Kovacs is our POV detective who is hired to investigate the case. The structure of the narrative is then typical of the genre with the investigation slowly unfolding.
Outside of the interesting science fiction ideas and setting I’ve discussed I didn’t find much to enjoy in this novel. The lead character and his emotional loss didn’t really hit me and the all important final reveal was weak and a bit unclear. Maybe I just didn’t understand it all but I didn’t really understand the antagonists motivations and actions. The same goes for the protagonist, Kovacs seemed to spend much of his time engaging in Taxi Driver-style retribution stunts for no apparent reason.
Since reading it I’ve discovered that Altered Carbon was Richard Morgan’s first novel. He has since done several more since then which I might give a try at some point since this had all the potential to be something great. In the end though it was confusing, unsatisfying and disjointed. I also learnt that the film rights have been sold to Joel Silver of Matrix fame for $1 million. Evidently a lot of people got more out of this book than me,
Currently reading Bad Science by Ben Goldacre and Blood Meridian Or The Evening Redness In The West by Cormac McCarthy.