Monday, April 27, 2009

Review: Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan

Altered Carbon
Richard K. Morgan
Ballantine / De Rey 7.99
pb 526pp

Taikeshi Kovacs is an X U.N. Envoy which can best be described as a mix between Batman and a T-800. In a future where RD (real death) is something only the very poor have to experience. Personality, memory, a person's very consciousness can be saved electronically and restored into a cloned body or a completely different “sleeve”.

Since humans no longer have to physically travel between the stars (one only needs to transmit themselves to their destination) they have now been able to inhabit far flung planets in the galaxy.
Earth, by contrast, has stratified and ossified along scocio-economic lines. However instead of pure wealth, the true elite of Earth (Meths short for Methuselahs) people who have, through their wealth, extended their lives by backing up then restoring themselves into newer bodies.

Kovacs, due to his previous line of work, is a pariah on many worlds and faces long term storage, finds himself given the chance to avoid hundreds of years of storage and possibly gaining a reprieve on his home planet, is called to Earth to solve a suicide, by the very Meth person who committed suicide. But within minutes of downloading and re-sleeving on Earth, Taikeshi is attacked. He soon finds that this is not an isolated instance as it would seem almost every group is bent on stopping Kovacs at any cost.

Altered Carbon is one of the rare books that starts on a high note and continues to escalate! The action starts within the first few pages and never stops. The experience is somewhat like learning to drive by being dropped into the drivers seat of an Indy racer doing 140mph! You learn the plot line and the characters while ducking punches and avoiding hails of bullets. All the while the plot continues to coil and twist . You quite literally learn nuances in the plot and characters in the final pages!

Morgan had postulated a future Earth that Robinson or Gibson would be comfortable with. The tech is well realized and the milieu is believable. I know I bandy the “couldn't put it down” a lot however you will understand after reading a few pages, when I say that you really can't easily close the book and walk away.

Altered Carbon is not for everyone. Kovacs is certainly every bit the anti hero. Not that he is written unpleasant, but Morgan made the choice to put Taikeshi Kovacs in the middle of what combat vets know as a shit storm, and has him familiar with the level of violence and able to dish it out every bit as well. If your tastes run to military / war science fiction then you will get a large uncut dose with Altered Carbon. But be forewarned, Morgan doesn't pull any punches and neither does Kovacs.

If your an action/adventure war sci-fi aficionado, I give this a recommended read.

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