Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Review: Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan

In Altered Carbon, the debut novel by Richard K. Morgan, cyberpunk grows up, has a seedy affair at a whorehouse in ‘licktown’ and hires a private investigator to investigate its own murder. After that, things get nasty.

Altered Carbon introduces us to Morgan’s recurring hero, Takeshi Kovacs, an ex-military Special Forces officer (known as Envoys) with specialized training and conditioning making him both more and less than human. Kovacs has become something of a private investigator with a dislike of authority and law and a complicated moral code – just like any other hard-boiled private dick you’ve read about. The difference is in the setting – humankind has spread throughout the galaxy and conquered death through the use of direct digital download of person’s consciousness into a cortical stack implanted at the base of the brain that can transferred to a new body as needed (if you can afford it).

In Altered Carbon Kovacs is hired by a rich, powerful and long-lived man on Old Earth to determine if his client was murdered or committed suicide (death and the like can get a bit complicated when a backup consciousness can be stored).The resulting chain of events is typical of hard-boiled, noir stories – there’s a love interest or two (with somewhat graphic description), ass-kicking, past catching up, trouble with cops, trouble with organized crime, visits to whorehouses, drugs, sex, guns, knives, lasers, etc. All is told in colorful language, vivid description and around a twenty-fifth century setting reflective of our world but sufficiently advanced to be fascinating.

In many ways this is a ‘man’s book’ – there are lots of witty dialogue, ass-kicking fights, some gratuitous sex, and women are generally objectified while being limited to overly sexualized characters (admittedly, some of them do kick ass) – of course the guys are rarely caste in a very positive light either. This is a book that won’t appeal to all, and will likely find its biggest audience bearing a Y chromosome.

Kovacs is well characterized in the gritty-gray zone one would expect. He is dark, dangerous and comes with a scarred past that hasn’t healed completely. With his slightly psychopathic tendencies (the slight part is debatable), death and destruction is never all that far away.

I found Altered Carbon to be an immensely enjoyable and fun book to read without the usual stumbles first-time authors usually make. It’s a dark and dangerous world – definitely not a place you want to talk to your mother about. I can’t wait to read the further adventures of Kovacs in Broken Angels and Woken Furies. 8/10

2 comments:

Paul Niles said...

I really liked this one too. Any thoughts on his fantasy series?

Neth said...

Wow Paul, digging into reviews that are 7 years old. Anyway, I have a copy of his fantasy series, but haven't read it yet. I've seen mixed, yet mostly positive opinions on the series. To use the terms of the day, it sounds like it's pretty 'gritty', perhaps even grimdark.

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