Altered Carbon

Altered Carbon

by Richard K. Morgan

Paperback(1 AMER ED)

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Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • NOW AN EXCITING NEW SERIES FROM NETFLIX • The shell that blew a hole in his chest was only the beginning in this “tour de force of genre-bending, a brilliantly realized exercise in science fiction.”—The New York Times Book Review

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.

Praise for Altered Carbon

“Compelling . . . immensely entertaining . . . [Richard] Morgan’s writing is vivid and his plotting inventive.”The Philadelphia Inquirer
“A fascinating trip . . . Pure high-octane science fiction mixes with the classic noir private-eye tale.”Orlando Sentinel
“Gritty and vivid . . . looks as if we have another interstellar hero on our hands.”USA Today

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780345457684
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 03/04/2003
Series: Takeshi Kovacs Series , #1
Edition description: 1 AMER ED
Pages: 400
Sales rank: 26,752
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.20(h) x 0.90(d)

About 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.

Read an Excerpt


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 room 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 new life.

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.


The doctor led me down a long white corridor whose floor bore the scuff marks of rubber-wheeled gurneys. She was moving at quite a pace, and I was hard-pressed to keep up, wrapped as I was in nothing but a plain gray towel and still dripping tank gel. Her manner was superficially bedside, but there was a harried undercurrent to it. She had a sheaf of curling hardcopy documentation under her arm and other places to be. I wondered how many sleevings she got through in a day.

“You should get as much rest as you can in the next day or so,” she recited. “There may be minor aches and pains, but this is normal. Sleep will solve the problem. If you have any recurring comp—”

“I know. I’ve done this before.”

I wasn’t feeling much like human interaction. I’d just remembered Sarah.

We stopped at a side door with the word shower stenciled on frosted glass. The doctor steered me inside and stood looking at me for a moment.

“I’ve used showers before, as well,” I assured her.

She nodded. “When you’re finished, there’s an elevator at the end of the corridor. Discharge is on the next floor. The, ah, the police are waiting to talk to you.”

The manual says you’re supposed to avoid strong adrenal shocks to the newly sleeved, but then she’d probably read my file and didn’t consider meeting the police much of an event in my lifestyle. I tried to feel the same.

“What do they want?”

“They didn’t choose to share that with me.” The words showed an edge of frustration that she shouldn’t have been letting me see. “Perhaps your reputation precedes you.”

“Perhaps it does.” On an impulse, I flexed my new face into a smile. “Doctor, I’ve never been here before. To Earth, I mean. I’ve never dealt with your police before. Should I be worried?”

She looked at me, and I saw it welling up in her eyes, the mingled fear and wonder and contempt of the failed human reformer.

“With a man like you,” she managed finally, “I would have thought they would be the worried ones.”

“Yeah, right,” I said quietly.

She hesitated, then gestured. “There is a mirror in the changing room,” she said, and left. I glanced toward the room she had indicated, not sure I was ready for the mirror yet.

In the shower I whistled my disquiet away tunelessly and ran soap and hands over the new body. My sleeve was in his early forties, Protectorate standard, with a swimmer’s build and what felt like some military custom-carved onto his nervous system. Neurachemical upgrade, most likely. I’d had it myself, once. There was a tightness in the lungs that suggested a nicotine habit and some gorgeous scarring on the forearm, but apart from that I couldn’t find anything worth complaining about. The little twinges and snags catch up with you later on, and if you’re wise, you just live with them. Every sleeve has a history. If that kind of thing bothers you, you line up over at Syntheta’s or Fabrikon. I’d worn my fair share of synthetic sleeves; they use them for parole hearings quite often. Cheap, but it’s too much like living alone in a drafty house, and they never seem to get the flavor circuits right. Everything you eat ends up tasting like curried sawdust.

In the changing cubicle I found a neatly folded summer suit on the bench and the mirror set in the wall. On top of the pile of clothes was a simple steel watch, and weighted beneath the watch was a plain white envelope with my name written neatly across it. I took a deep breath and went to face the mirror.

This is always the toughest part. Nearly two decades I’ve been doing this, and it still jars me to look into the glass and see a total stranger staring back. It’s like pulling an image out of the depths of an autostereogram. For the first couple of moments all you can see is someone else looking at you through a window frame. Then, like a shift in focus, you feel yourself float rapidly up behind the mask and adhere to its inside with a shock that’s almost tactile. It’s as if someone’s cut an umbilical cord, only instead of separating the two of you, it’s the otherness that has been severed and now you’re just looking at your reflection in a mirror.

I stood there and toweled myself dry, getting used to the face. It was basically Caucasian, which was a change for me, and the overwhelming impression I got was that if there was a line of least resistance in life, this face had never been along it. Even with the characteristic pallor of a long stay in the tank, the features in the mirror managed to look weather-beaten. There were lines everywhere. The thick, cropped hair was black shot through with gray. The eyes were a speculative shade of blue, and there was a faint, jagged scar under the left one. I raised my left forearm and looked at the story written there, wondering if the two were connected.

The envelope beneath the watch contained a single sheet of printed paper. Hardcopy. Handwritten signature. Very quaint.

Well, you’re on Earth now. Most ancient of civilized worlds. I shrugged and scanned the letter, then got dressed and folded it away in the jacket of my new suit. With a final glance in the mirror, I strapped on the new watch and went out to meet the police.

It was four-fifteen, local time.


The doctor was waiting for me, seated behind a long curve of reception counter and filling out forms on a monitor. A thin, severe-looking man suited in black stood at her shoulder. There was no one else in the room.

I glanced around, then back at the suit.

“You the police?”

“Outside.” He gestured at the door. “This isn’t their jurisdiction. They need a special brief to get in here. We have our own security.”

“And you are?”

He looked at me with the same mixture of emotions the doctor had hit me with downstairs. “Warden Sullivan, chief executive for Bay City Central, the facility you are now leaving.”

“You don’t sound delighted to be losing me.”

Sullivan pinned me with a stare. “You’re a recidivist, Kovacs. I never saw the case for wasting good flesh and blood on people like you.”

I touched the letter in my breast pocket. “Lucky for me Mr. Bancroft disagrees with you. He’s supposed to be sending a limousine for me. Is that outside, as well?”

“I haven’t looked.”

Somewhere on the counter, a protocol chime sounded. The doctor had finished her inputting. She tore the curling edge of the hardcopy free, initialed it in a couple of places, and passed it to Sullivan. The warden bent over the paper, scanning it with narrowed eyes before he scribbled his own signature and handed the copy to me.

“Takeshi Lev Kovacs,” he said, mispronouncing with the same skill as his minion in the tank room. “By the powers vested in me by the U.N. Justice Accord, I discharge you on lease to Laurens J. Bancroft, for a period not to exceed six weeks, at the end of which time your parole status will be reconsidered. Please sign here.”

I took the pen and wrote my name in someone else’s handwriting next to the warden’s finger. Sullivan separated the top and bottom copies and handed me the pink one. The doctor held up a second sheet, and Sullivan took it.

“This is a doctor’s statement certifying that Takeshi Kovacs (D.H.) was received intact from the Harlan’s World Justice Administration and subsequently sleeved in this body. Witnessed by myself, and closed-circuit monitor. A disk copy of the transmission details and tank data are enclosed. Please sign the declaration.”

I glanced up and searched in vain for any sign of the cameras. Not worth fighting about. I scribbled my new signature a second time.

“This is a copy of the leasing agreement by which you are bound. Please read it carefully. Failure to comply with any of its articles may result in you being returned to storage immediately to complete the full term of your sentence, either here or at another facility of the administration’s choice. Do you understand these terms and agree to be bound by them?”

I took the paperwork and scanned rapidly through it. It was standard stuff. A modified version of the parole agreement I’d signed half a dozen times before on Harlan’s World. The language was a bit stiffer, but the content was the same. Crabshit by any other name. I signed it without a blink.

“Well then.” Sullivan seemed to have lost a bit of his iron. “You’re a lucky man, Kovacs. Don’t waste the opportunity.”

Don’t they ever get tired of saying it?

I folded up my bits of paper without speaking and stuffed them into my pocket next to the letter. I was turning to leave when the doctor stood up and held out a small white card to me.

“Mr. Kovacs.”

I paused.

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Altered Carbon 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 201 reviews.
KENH1 More than 1 year ago
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.
PhoenixFalls More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great world building, interesting plot. Only downside is the sex scenes, didn't really need them to be that in depth.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Scratched the Blade Runner itch pretty well.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I'm not much of a SciFi reader - but Altered Carbon has shifted that.
Hellfire6A More than 1 year ago
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!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Not as good as the first book but not bad.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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. 
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Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous 27 days ago
It's hard to find sci-fi this good. Legit noir and consistent science with not a bit of cheese to kill the mood.
Anonymous 10 months ago
Loved the mix of SF and detective story!
AlexN2010 11 months ago
dynamic, well constructed, and if you have seen the Netflix adaptation - the book is all of that but better. If I don't give it 5 starts it's only because this is, after all, light reading. Candy, action fiction. But as such, it's good.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
scottjl More than 1 year ago
a good, enjoyable story.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago