Altered Carbonby Richard K. Morgan, Vincent Chong (Illustrator)
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. . . .
From the Trade Paperback edition.
“AN ASTONISHING PIECE OF WORK . . . A wonderful SF idea . . . Altered Carbon hits the floor running and then starts to accelerate. Intriguing and inventive in equal proportions and refuses to let go until the last page.”
“AN EXCITING SF/CRIME HYBRID, with an intricate (but always plausible) plot, a powerful noir atmosphere, and enough explosive action to satisfy the most die-hard thriller fan.”
“AN EXHILARATING AND GLOSSY ADVENTURE . . . What makes Altered Carbon a winner is the quality of Morgan’s prose. For every piece of John Woo action there is a stunning piece of reflective description, a compelling sense of place, and abundant 24-karat witticisms.”
- Subterranean Press
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- 6.40(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.50(d)
Read an Excerpt
Two hours before dawn I sat in the peeling kitchen and smoked one of Sarah's cigarettes, listening to the maelstrom and waiting. Millsport had long since put itself to bed, but out in the Reach currents were still snagging on the shoals, and the sound came ashore to prowl the empty streets. There was a fine mist drifting in from the whirlpool, falling on the city like sheets of muslin and fogging the kitchen windows.
Chemically alert, I inventoried the hardware on the scarred wooden table
for the fiftieth time that night. Sarah's Heckler and Koch shard pistol
glinted dully at me in the low light, the butt gaping open for its clip.
It was an assassin's weapon, compact and utterly silent. The magazines
lay next to it. She had wrapped insulating tape around each one to
distinguish the ammunition: green for sleep, black for the spider-venom
load. Most of the clips were black-wrapped. Sarah had used up a lot of
green on the security guards at Gemini Biosys last night.
My own contributions were less subtle: the big silver Smith & Wesson,
and the four remaining hallucinogen grenades. The thin crimson line
around each canister seemed to sparkle slightly, as if it was about to
detach itself from the metal casing and float up to join the curlicues
of smoke ribboning off my cigarette. Shift and slide of altered
significants, the side effect of the tetrameth I'd scored that afternoon
down at the wharf. I don't usually smoke when I'm straight, but for some
reason the tet always triggers the urge.
Against the distant roar of the maelstrom I heard it. The hurrying strop
of rotor blades on the fabric of thenight.
I stubbed out the cigarette, mildly unimpressed with myself, and went
through to the bedroom. Sarah was sleeping, an assembly of low-frequency
sine curves beneath the single sheet. A raven sweep of hair covered her
face and one long-fingered hand trailed over the side of the bed. As I
stood looking at her the night outside split. One of Harlan's World's
orbital guardians test-firing into the Reach. Thunder from the concussed
sky rolled in to rattle the windows. The woman in the bed stirred and
swept the hair out of her eyes. The liquid crystal gaze found me and
"What're you looking at?" Voice husky with the residue of sleep. I
smiled a little.
"Don't give me that shit. Tell me what you're looking at."
"Just looking. It's time to go."
She lifted her head and picked up the sound of the helicopter. The sleep
slid away from her face, and she sat up in bed.
"Where's the 'ware?"
It was a corps joke. I smiled the way you do when you see an old friend
and pointed to the case in the corner of the room.
"Get my gun for me."
"Yes, ma'am. Black or green?"
"Black. I trust these scumbags about as far as a clingfilm condom." In
the kitchen, I loaded up the shard pistol, cast a glance at my own
weapon and left it lying there. Instead I scooped up one of the H
grenades and took it back in my other hand. I paused in the doorway to
the bedroom and weighed the two pieces of hardware in each palm as if I
was trying to decide which was the heavier.
"A little something with your phallic substitute, ma'am?"
Sarah looked up from beneath the hanging sickle of black hair over her
fore-head. She was in the midst of pulling a pair of long woolen socks
up over the sheen of her thighs.
"Yours is the one with the long barrel, Tak."
We both heard it at the same time. A metallic double clack from the
corridor outside. Our eyes met across the room, and for a quarter second
I saw my own shock mirrored there. Then I was tossing the loaded shard
gun to her. She put up one long-fingered hand and took it out of the air
just as the whole of the bed-room wall caved in in thunder. The blast
knocked me back into a corner and onto the floor.
They must have located us in the apartment with body-heat sensors, then
mined the whole wall with limpets. Taking no chances this time. The
commando who came through the ruined wall was stocky and insect-eyed in
full gas attack rig, hefting a snub-barreled Kalashnikov in gloved
Ears ringing, still on the floor, I flung the H grenade up at him. It
was un-fused, useless in any case against the gas mask, but he didn't
have time to identify the device as it spun at him. He batted it off the
breech of his Kalashnikov and stumbled back, eyes wide behind the glass
panels of the mask.
"Fire in the hole."
Sarah was down on the floor beside the bed, arms wrapped around her head
and sheltered from the blast. She heard the shout, and in the seconds
the bluff had bought us she popped up again, shard gun outflung. Beyond
the wall I could see figures huddled against the expected grenade blast.
I heard the mosquito whine of monomolecular splinters across the room as
she put three shots into the lead commando. They shredded invisibly
through the attack suit and into the flesh beneath. He made a noise like
someone straining to lift something heavy as the spider venom sank its
claws into his nervous system. I grinned and started to get up.
Sarah was turning her aim on the figures beyond the wall when the second
commando of the night appeared braced in the kitchen doorway and hosed
her away with his assault rifle.
Still on my knees, I watched her die with chemical clarity. It all went
so slowly it was like a video playback on frame advance. The commando
kept his aim low, holding the Kalashnikov down against the
hyper-rapid-fire recoil it was famous for. The bed went first, erupting
into gouts of white goose down and ripped cloth, then Sarah, caught in
the storm as she turned. I saw one leg turned to pulp below the knee,
and then the body hit, bloody fistfuls of tissue torn out of her pale
flanks as she fell through the curtain of fire.
I reeled to my feet as the assault rifle stammered to a halt. Sarah had
rolled over on her face, as if to hide the damage the shells had done to
her, but I saw it all through veils of red anyway. I came out of the
corner without conscious thought, and the commando was too late to bring
the Kalashnikov around. I slammed into him at waist height, blocked the
gun, and knocked him back into the kitchen. The barrel of the rifle
caught on the doorjamb, and he lost his grip. I heard the weapon clatter
to the ground behind me as we hit the kitchen floor. With the speed and
strength of the tetrameth, I scrambled astride him, batted aside one
flailing arm, and seized his head in both hands. Then I smashed it
against the tiles like a coconut.
Under the mask, his eyes went suddenly unfocused. I lifted the head
again and smashed it down again, feeling the skull give soggily with the
impact. I ground down against the crunch, lifted and smashed again.
There was a roaring in my ears like the maelstrom, and somewhere I could
hear my own voice screaming obscenities.
I was going for a fourth or fifth blow when something kicked me between
the shoulder blades and splinters jumped magically out of the table leg
in front of me. I felt the sting as two of them found homes in my face.
For some reason the rage puddled abruptly out of me. I let go of the
commando's head almost gently and was lifting one puzzled hand to the
pain of the splinters in my cheek when I realized I had been shot, and
that the bullet must have torn all the way through my chest and into the
table leg. I looked down, dumbfounded, and saw the dark red stain inking
its way out over my shirt. No doubt about it. An exit hole big enough to
take a golf ball.
With the realization came the pain. It felt as if someone had run a
steel wool pipe cleaner briskly through my chest cavity. Almost
thoughtfully, I reached up, found the hole, and plugged it with my two
middle fingers. The fingertips scraped over the roughness of torn bone
in the wound, and I felt something membranous throb against one of them.
The bullet had missed my heart. I grunted and attempted to rise, but the
grunt turned into a cough and I tasted blood on my tongue.
"Don't you move, motherfucker."
The yell came out of a young throat, badly distorted with shock. I
hunched forward over my wound and looked back over my shoulder. Behind
me in the doorway, a young man in a police uniform had both hands
clasped around the pistol he had just shot me with. He was trembling
visibly. I coughed again and turned back to the table.
The Smith & Wesson was on eye level, gleaming silver, still where I had
left it less than two minutes ago. Perhaps it was that, the scant
shavings of time that had been planed off since Sarah was alive and all
was well, that drove me. Less than two minutes ago I could have picked
up the gun; I'd even thought about it, so why not now? I gritted my
teeth, pressed my fingers harder into the hole in my chest, and
staggered upright. Blood spattered warmly against the back of my throat.
I braced myself on the edge of the table with my free hand and looked
back at the cop. I could feel my lips peeling back from the clenched
teeth in something that was more a grin than a grimace.
"Don't make me do it, Kovacs."
I got myself a step closer to the table and leaned against it with my
thighs, breath whistling through my teeth and bubbling in my throat. The
Smith & Wes-son gleamed like fool's gold on the scarred wood. Out in the
Reach power lashed down from an orbital and lit the kitchen in tones of
blue. I could hear the mael-strom calling.
"I said don't--"
I closed my eyes and clawed the gun off the table.
Coming back from the dead can be rough.
In the Envoy Corps they teach you to let go before storage. Stick it in
neutral and float. It's the first lesson and the trainers drill it into
you from day one. Hard-eyed Virginia Vidaura, dancer's body poised
inside the shapeless corps coveralls as she paced in front of us in the
induction room. Don't worry about anything, she said, and you'll be
ready for it. A decade later, I met her again in a holding pen at the
New Kanagawa Justice Facility. She was going down for eighty to a
century; excessively armed robbery and organic damage. The last thing
she said to me when they walked her out of the cell was don't worry,
kid, they'll store it. Then she bent her head to light a cigarette, drew
the smoke hard into lungs she no longer gave a damn about, and set off
down the corridor as if to a tedious briefing. From the narrow angle of
vision afforded me by the cell gate, I watched the pride in that walk
and I whispered the words to myself like a mantra.
Don't worry, they'll store it. It was a superbly double-edged piece of
street wisdom. Bleak faith in the efficiency of the penal system, and a
clue to the elusive state of mind required to steer you past the rocks
of psychosis. Whatever you feel, whatever you're thinking, whatever you
are when they store you, that's what you'll be when you come out. With
states of high anxiety, that can be a problem. So you let go. Stick it
in neutral. Disengage and float.
If you have time.
I came thrashing up out of the tank, one hand plastered across my chest
searching for the wounds, the other clutching at a nonexistent weapon.
The weight hit me like a hammer, and I collapsed back into the flotation
gel. I flailed with my arms, caught one elbow painfully on the side of
the tank and gasped. Gobbets of gel poured into my mouth and down my
throat. I snapped my mouth shut and got a hold on the hatch coaming, but
the stuff was everywhere. In my eyes, burning my nose and throat, and
slippery under my fingers. The weight was forcing my grip on the hatch
loose, sitting on my chest like a high-g maneuver, pressing me down into
the gel. My body heaved violently in the confines of the tank. Flotation
gel? I was drowning.
Abruptly, there was a strong grip on my arm and I was hauled coughing
into an upright position. At about the same time I was working out there
were no wounds in my chest someone wiped a towel roughly across my face
and I could see. I decided to save that pleasure for later and
concentrated on getting the contents of the tank out of my nose and
throat. For about half a minute I stayed sitting, head down, coughing up
the gel and trying to work out why everything weighed so much.
"So much for training." It was a hard, male voice, the sort that
habitually hangs around justice facilities. "What did they teach you in
the Envoys anyway, Kovacs?"
That was when I had it. On Harlan's World, Kovacs is quite a common
name. Everyone knows how to pronounce it. This guy didn't. He was
speaking a stretched form of the Amanglic they use on the World, but
even allowing for that, he was mangling the name badly, and the ending
came out with a hard k instead of the Slavic ch.
And everything was too heavy.
The realization came through my fogged perceptions like a brick through
frosted plate glass.
Somewhere along the line, they'd taken Takeshi Kovacs (D.H.), and they'd
freighted him. And since Harlan's World was the only habitable biosphere
in the Glimmer system, that meant a stellar-range needlecast to--
I looked up. Harsh neon tubes set in a concrete roof. I was sitting in
the opened hatch of a dull metal cylinder, looking for all the world
like an ancient aviator who'd forgotten to dress before climbing aboard
his biplane. The cylinder was one of a row of about twenty backed up
against the wall, opposite a heavy steel door, which was closed. The was
chilly and the walls unpainted. Give them their due, on Harlan's World
at least the air resleeving rooms are decked out in pastel colors and
the attendants are pretty. After all you're supposed to have paid your
debt to society. The least they can do is give you a sunny start to your
Sunny wasn't in the vocabulary of the figure before me. About two meters
tall, he looked as if he'd made his living wrestling swamp panthers
before the present career opportunity presented itself. Musculature
bulged on his chest and arms like body armor, and the head above it had
hair cropped close to the skull, revealing a long scar like a lightning
strike down to the left ear. He was dressed in a loose black garment
with epaulettes and a diskette logo on the breast. His eyes matched the
garment and watched me with hardened calm. Having helped me sit up, he
had stepped back out of arm's reach, as per the manual. He'd been doing
this a long time.
I pressed one nostril closed and snorted tank gel out of the other.
"Want to tell me where I am? Itemize my rights, something like that?"
"Kovacs, right now you don't have any rights."
I looked up and saw that a grim smile had stitched itself across his
face. I shrugged and snorted the other nostril clean.
"Want to tell me where I am?"
He hesitated a moment, glanced up at the neon-barred roof as if to
ascertain the information for himself before he passed it on, and then
mirrored my shrug.
"Sure. Why not? You're in Bay City, pal. Bay City, Earth." The grimace
of a smile came back. "Home of the Human Race. Please enjoy your stay on
this most ancient of civilized worlds. Ta-dada-dah."
"Don't give up the day job," I told him soberly.
Meet the Author
Richard K. Morgan is the acclaimed author of Market Forces, Broken Angels, and Altered Carbon, a New York Times Notable Book that also won the Philip K. Dick Award. Morgan sold the movie rights for Altered Carbon to Joel Silver and Warner Bros. He lives in Scotland.
Todd McLaren was involved in radio for more than twenty years in cities on both coasts. He left broadcasting for a full-time career in voice-overs, where he has been heard on more than 5,000 TV and radio commercials, as well as TV promos, narrations for documentaries on such networks as A&E and the History Channel, and films.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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There is nothing really new in this SF meets noir detective novel. On the noir side, there is the cynical, hard-boiled detective unwillingly drawn in to the machinations of the powerful; there are the beautiful women embroiled in the case in varying degrees, nearly all of whom eventually get bedded; there is the city filled to the brim with drug dealers, whorehouses, and little people being eaten up by the powerful. On the SF side, there are hints of an ancient galactic civilization, now defunct; there are guns and computer programs to do anything anyone could want; there are A.I.s, particularly The Hendrix, which is a fabulous invention; and of course, there is the ubiquitous process of resleeving, by which death has been conquered - for the rich. Even the melding of the two genres is not new: it dates back at least to Isaac Asimov's Elijah Bailey/R. Daneel Olivaw novels. What Altered Carbon provides, however, is all of those familiar elements done up in a superb style. It is an extraordinarily visual book - I understood from the first page of the prologue why Joel Silver and Warner Bros. bought the film rights for $1 million. The narrative is fast-paced, the tone is spot-on, and the philosophical musings, while also not ground-breaking in any way, are moments to savor rather than skip over. The mystery is satisfyingly twisty but still fair to the reader, and the final confrontation ratchets up the tension to a screaming pitch then uses the bare minimum of words to choreograph the denoument. Really an impressive first novel, and one I heartily enjoyed. I do have one quibble, however: I read the author bio in the back of the book first, and two of the three sentences were about the film rights. I found this a tad tasteless, not very informative, and kind of distracting, as I spent the entire novel trying to imagine how someone would film it.
This was recommended to me and it did not disappoint. It had everything I was looking for in a gritty SF novel - a complex world where the future is well-defined and unique, great characters and action, and a touch of noir. In a future world where a person's consciousness can be "resleeved" into other bodies, an ex-military soldier is brought out of his century long prison sentence to investigate the apparent suicide of a wealthy immortal, who also happens to be the client. If the opening chapter doesn't hook you, check your pulse.
I've read everything that Richard Morgan has written, I'm on my millionth read through of Altered Carbon and it's simply amazing. Takeshi Kovacs is a gripping character.
Lacking in verisimilitude. Lots of great ideas, but they end of being a mish-mash. There doesn't seem to be any sort of framework created by the author to test if his world seems true. Yes it is science fiction. However, if you propose certain changes to physics or the way things are done you need to think about the ultimate consequences for society and for individuals. In the case of this novel there seems to be a lot of hand waving with little or no attention to how technology would change the way people view the world or live in it. Too much sex, too much drugs, too much violence, and very little in the way of sense to go along with it. Avoid this book. I love SciFi and have been reading it in excess of 40 years I can usually draw some logical inferences to fill the gaps that an author may leave, but not this time. The protagonist is from another world, he has served in the UN military on a number of other worlds. Yet at one point the author mentions ships filled with stored egos and embryos being sent into space to colonize other worlds. Are they slow ships? If so how in the world can humanity have spread across the galaxy in just 500 years. Also, the author mentions "Martians" helping humanity at some point or having left behind technology to be discovered. Even the whales remembered the Martians?!? But, we get no description of what they did or how humanity could have spread. We don't understand how sleeves (what the author calls bodies) get improved or have augmentations...more hand wavium that doesn't make much sense. I think the worst part of the whole experience was the fact that I knew whodunnit by about page 100. Do not waste your time or money!
Not as good as the first book but not bad.
I would have enjoyed Altered Carbon more as a pubescent kid unaccustomed to quality writing and an awareness of contemporary scientific knowledge. From the outset, the author displays a dim grip on the conflict between an uploadable person and the scientific, brain-bound person. This puts the premise well beyond the suspension of disbelief for anyone with even a moderate interest in neuroscience. The book would be more effective if the author took that challenge head on—but I’m not sure whether the author was even aware of the challenge. But my main problem with the book is the low quality delivery. Perhaps cyberpunk’s just not my thing, but then again, perhaps I prefer writing that doesn’t come across as voiceless and filled with immature fantasies. Genre doesn’t mean cut-and-paste phrase writing, and debauchery should be written by someone who can express a proper connection with it…not someone who comes off as a 14 year old boy fantasizing about things he’s never done. Of course, the book did accomplish one thing that very few books can make me do. Halfway through it, I’ve stopped reading it—without an ounce of feeling that I might be missing out.
A genre setting novel that has frightening parallels to todays world. Starring a multilayered lead crashing through a hyperviolent landscape that leaves the reader gasping for breath.
It's one of those books that catches your eye when you walk down the asile and makes you wonder what the title has to do with the story. I own all of the Takashi series and honestly believe if I don't get more I will possibly force Morgan to write more. No matter your view you end up loving Takeshi and his attitude towards the world.
Re-sleeve me out of here. This was a kind of mish mash of bits of other stories (Spares) and films (any cyberpunk). Not even well written! Ugh. This got picked up for a movie? Spare me, let's hope the rule that most books don't get to film stage applies to this thing.
This was as 'blow-em-up-I'll-be-back' American as they get! I enjoyed some of the action sequences, but the whole gimmick of the book (people transporting from body to body) was presented about as exciting as stepping on and off a greyhound bus. If you like detective stories, you might weather this one out. Our book group thought a huge section in the middle needed to have landed on the editing room floor.
I loved the altered carbon series. I just dont understand why mr morgan has abandoned it for his rsther weak sword and sorcery tales. Give the readers what they want.
William Gibson invented cyberpunk with Neuromancer. Neil Stephenson introduced a new generation with Snow Crash. Richard K Morgan completes the cyberpunk holy trinity with Altered Carbon.
Morgan is the real deal! "Altered Carbon" is an amazing mix of detective noir, cool SF tropes, and social commentary. Takeshi Kovacs is the prototypical jaded anti-hero who appears to not really care, but he does have his own code and a sense of honor. The story moves along at a good clip, with occasional asides for a little exposition that work very well (and I am -not- a huge fan of expository passages). Definitely a page-turner, definitely worth your time. I bought it in both paper and digital form, and gave copies to the base library, too.
a good, enjoyable story.
The cyberpunk genre hit bookshelves in the early 1980s and talented writers have been crafting amazing stories ever since. British author Richard K. Morgan joins the ranks of these great writers with his 2002 debut novel, Altered Carbon. Morgan’s novel distills the essence from the genre’s most powerful stories and tosses it into a blender with a shot of whiskey, a hit of tetrameth and a hardboiled detective. The resulting novel is smooth, frenetic and full of high-tech science fiction elements that both inspire the imagination and darken the soul. The story begins as protagonist Takeshi Kovacs is brutally shot to death by commandos on his home planet of Harlan’s World after what looks like a botched heist. Luckily for Takeshi, his cortical stack – the device set into the base of his skull that holds a digital copy of his mind – is unharmed and placed in “storage,” a prison for cortical stacks. In an unusual move, he is “needlecast” – transmitted back to Earth and inserted into a waiting body, or “sleeve” – at the behest of the rich and powerful Laurens Bancroft. Known as a Methuselah – or “Meth” – because he is 357 years old, Bancroft will never die of old age due to his wealth, power and the current technology. Even if his sleeve is killed and his cortical stack destroyed, he has a wireless backup that transmits to a remote storage facility every 48 hours. When Bancroft finds out his last sleeve was destroyed in precisely that manner – and he has no knowledge of the 48 hours leading to his death – he needs a special man to help find the truth. Knowing he is almost universally reviled on Earth for his immense privilege – the police in fact have already marked his death a suicide and moved on – he must recruit help from off world. Another Meth who has worked with Takeshi Kovacs suggests he might be able to help Bancroft. Takeshi worked for a special branch of the military called the Envoys. Specialized soldiers with a healthy dose of intelligence operative and shock trooper added in for good measure, Envoys are trained to quickly adapt to any sleeve in any environment. Envoys possess an eidetic memory and can pick up on subtle patterns within seemly random events. They possess a complete understanding of body language, voice modulation and are capable of understanding intentions and manipulating others with little problem. However, one of the most overtly frightening aspects of an Envoy’s training is the complete removal of every violence-limiting instinct a human is born with. The combination of this very specific set of skills set makes an Envoy a very scary individual. Once Takeshi awakens in his new sleeve, he finds an offer from Bancroft he cannot refuse and is thrust into what amounts to a high stakes chess game on a planet he is unfamiliar with. Bancroft wants the truth, but Takeshi must investigate the sordid secrets he has accumulated during his unnaturally long life and those who aren’t so eager for these secrets to be revealed. Meeting resistance at every turn, Takeshi must use every ounce of his Envoy training and every trick he knows to find the truth and avoid Real Death. Morgan takes the bones of cyberpunk and paints them with a fresh coat of glamour and sleaze. The ideas he presents aren’t new, but are presented very clearly with unique twists. The world of Altered Carbon is clearly envisioned and the story moves at a rapid pace. Even if the terms are unfamiliar, the ideas are readily grasped. His characters are fully realized with their own thoughts and motivations, and readers will find themselves on the edge of their seats anticipating what each character will do next. The story has twists and turns as Takeshi plays private detective and chases down lead after lead getting ever closer to the truth. Cyberpunk fans will love this book, and for those new to the genre, Altered Carbon could be just the introduction they need.
Great book, great writer. Only thing i didnt care for was the excess of detail. The book could have easily fit in 300 pages. It was this that made it a "pick up and read when you could" rather than a "couldnt put it down". Overall, i loved the concept and the book, im glad i happened apon it.
I read this about 5 years abgo, & its still stuck with me. Although a few of the futuristic tropes have been hashed over before, there're plenty of unique speculative ideas. For me, it was the well-drawn characters & rich evocative settings that kept me rivited...not to mention the thrilling plot with the vibe of an oold .....