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review by Christopher Geary
Richard Morgan's debut SF novel is a genre-breaking, hardboiled noir murder mystery, with body-swap identity crises and plenty of ingenious gadgetry that's used, and abused, in the service of mass slaughter and cyberpunk adventure.
Takeshi Kovacs was an agent for the UN Protectorate on Harlan's World. After he's killed in action, his mind is transmitted to Earth where he's reborn in a rented body and hired by a wealthy private citizen to investigate a suspicious death. If that sounds bizarre, his employer is also formerly deceased, resurrected with no recent memory, and wants to know if 'he' actually did commit suicide or not. Kovacs has never been on Earth before. So, in addition to hostility from the local cops, and the unnerving experience of waking up with a new face, he has culture shock, old religion, and variant social mores to contend with.
The practicalities of immortality are a common SF theme. Here, the process of rebirth is such an everyday occurrence that cloned or rental bodies are called 'sleeves' and police detectives are more concerned with sorting out 'organic damage' than increasingly rare cases of real homicide. Kovacs finds himself caught up in political machinations with various ethical and moral implications for the 're-sleeve' trade, on both sides of existing international law, and is forced to resort to extremely violent means to make progress with his inquiries. Blade Runner is an obvious inspiration for some of the plot mechanics here, and Morgan does an excellent job of mixing Philip K. Dick's mind-expanding ideas with the literary attitude and relentless cyber narratives of William Gibson and Bruce Sterling.
Remarkably detailed and convincingly matter-of-fact, Altered Carbon sets out to amuse and thrill readers with its darkly savage humour and pulverising shoot 'em up fire-fights. If that's not enough for you, there's also deeply intriguing crime drama, sharply defined characters with engaging quirks, a worthy hero facing down staggering odds, and a satisfying conclusion that still manages to defy the majority of genre conventions.
You want frissons..? Gleeful torture scenarios? Guilt-free paroxysms of delight? Altered Carbon surpasses all expectations!
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