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Reading: Altered Carbon

Altered Carbon
Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Book Number: 15

One of my favourite books, and the third time I’ve read it.

The book is set in the future, at a time when death itself has become something that can be managed and, if you have the money, avoided. Everybody has a chip in the base of their necks that saves their entire personality, and upon death it can be downloaded into a fresh body if you have the money (or connections who do), housed in a cheaper computer simulation or simply kept on file. Erasure (permanent deletion of a personality) is the ultimate punishment and used sparingly.

Transmitting a personality across space to be downloaded into a new body is the most efficient form of interplanetary travel available, and it’s in this manner that criminal Takeshi Kovacs is brought to Earth and hired by Laurens Bancroft, a centuries-old man who died mysteriously one night, shot in his own house with his own weapon after it was removed from a safe that only he and his wife had access to. Brought back as a backup copy with no memory of what happened, Laurens refuses to accept the police verdict of suicide (which makes no sense when he knew about the backup) and doesn’t doubt his wife’s innocence, so hires Kovacs to get to the truth.

Kovacs is a former Envoy, a form of special forces operative whose training includes stripping away layers of his humanity to make him a better killer. There are still traces of a conscience in there and he’s haunted by the ghosts of his past so it’s not fair to say he’s a monster, but he’s not human either. He doesn’t hesitate to inflict Real Death on people, destroying the chip so that there’s no chance of them being retrieved, if he feels they deserve it or he just needs the leverage.

While the mystery of Laurens’ suicide is the key motivation behind the entire story it’s Kovacs himself who keeps the story going. He possesses a rage that he can’t always keep under control, coupled with a personal philosophy cobbled together from mentors and revolutionaries from his past life on the distant colony of Harlan’s World, instilling in him a vague unease about people being treated as unimportant by those with power. There’s nobody on Earth quite like him, making him hard to predict or control, even by the people who have spent centuries learning how to control people and make plans on scales that span normal human lifetimes.

Altered Carbon moves along at a brisk pace, spinning out more details of the intriguing setting and steadily assembling more and more of the mystery, while giving Kovacs room to rage, kill and be one of the more interesting, damaged characters I’ve encountered. An excellent book.

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