Altered Carbon is a novel set 500 years later in a galactic age when humans occupy a number of extra-solar planets. The scene is a “dyspotian” world rife with human beings who strive for a never-ending cycle of life. As such, there are also a number of individuals who stick to their faith yearning for an after-life instead of striving for a limitless age.
The main character of the novel, is Takeshi Kovacs, who has dual personality, which not only has sympathetic tone towards other humans but also possess the tendency to indulge in criminal activities.
In reality, Takeshi Kovacs was an elite soldier of the United Nations who was set on difficult and challenging mission by the UN to resolve active conflicts between major factions and sects. Incidentally, Kovacs got involved in criminal activity and is sentenced to a 100 year punishment before being resurrected by a powerful individual to undertake a critical mission before Kovac’s punishment is over.
To fully understand the theme of the novel, readers must understand how humans are able to lead an infinite life 500 years in the future and why would many chose not to spend an infinite life. According to the theme, most humans have cortical stacks in their spinal cords, which can be programmed to remember every experience, emotion and thought in a life. As a result, if cortical stacks are saved, it can regenerate an exact copy of the human who has died. The process of resurrection is called “sleeving” where preserved cortical stack of a dead person is sleeved into a new body. However, not everyone chooses to undergo such transformation because humans go through a full ageing process, which was not acceptable to many individuals as the regeneration process involved numerous challenges including a new human body. Still, there were also a number of people of “Catholic” faith who would prefer not to live due to the belief that their souls go to heaven, instead. Yet, there are also people called “Meths” who are able to live infinite life by acquiring replacement bodies and saving their cortical stacks in remote locations to preserve stacks from permanent damage.
Regarding the main character, Takeshi Kovac is an elite soldier serving 100-year sentence for his criminal past. Yet, he is able to resurrect his life as one of the “super rich” individuals, Laurens Bancroft who uses his power to hire Kovac as a private investigator to resolve the mystery of his own murder in the prior life. Yet, the only reason why Laurens Bancroft could not remember the cause of the murder is a 48 hour back-up schedule of the stack preventing him to remember how he died. As per the story, the police declared Bancroft’s death as suicide; however, Bancroft is convinced that there was no apparent reason why he would commit suicide in his past life. Hence, Bancroft firmly believes that he was murdered. It is Takeshi Kovac’s job to find out if Bancroft was murdered and the motive behind the murder.
Initial events in Kovac’s investigation help confirm the theory that Lauren Bancroft was indeed murdered. The events at the Al-Hendrix Hotel, were enough to corroborate theory of murder. Subsequent events also lead to a twisty plot of corruption, crime, savagery and sex, where Kovac has to utilize all his will-power and intelligence to overcome efforts to subdue him. In fact, Kovac soon finds out that the murder mystery is more intricate than anything he had experienced in his life. Facing torture, deceit and a whimsical world, Kovac finds himself teamed up with friends who are even more difficult to trust.
Overall, the novel is full of twists and sci-fi action. Perhaps, what makes “Altered Carbon” unique is the ability of its author, Richard Morgan to instill humor. Besides, the plot is also full of intrigue, hidden agendas and sex. The entire story is revealed in subsequent sequences and controlled writing where readers have the chance to understand complex terminology before proceeding to confront new twists in the plot. Reading through the passage, it also becomes clear that the author is intent to highlight the growing tension between the old and the rich class. Accordingly, the novel continues to provide reasons for a dyspotian world where the society is in the state of limbo over ethical and social issues.
Despite the extremely descriptive nature of the novel, there are a number of passages requiring additional explanation to contemplate different theories presented by the author. Despite the shortcoming, it is evident that Morgan has done a wonderful job of describing each character. The vivid description of each character, such as Takeshi Kovacs, is refined because it is difficult to describe a character that undergoes so many emotions. For instance, Takeshi is portrayed as brutally violent yet someone who is compassionate and honorable.
For Takeshi Kovacs, the investigation proves challenging as the murder mystery continues to reveal a dangerous plot that could not only end his life but also makes him vulnerable to lose his cortical stack, forever. In fact, the overall plan is so devious that it can be recounted as “diabolical” even in the world where death means little to many. In the end, unanswered questions makes the novel suited for a sequel that would keep readers engrossed in subsequent hard science fiction books involving Takeshi Kovacs. Overall, Altered Carbon is one of the best written science fiction novels in recent years.