Series: Takeshi Kovacs #1
Published by Del Rey on February 28, 2018 (first published February 28, 2002)
Genres: Science Fiction, Mystery
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Four hundred years from now mankind is strung out across a region of interstellar space inherited from an ancient civilization discovered on Mars. The colonies are linked together by the occasional sublight colony ship voyages and hyperspatial data-casting. Human consciousness is digitally freighted between the stars and downloaded into bodies as a matter of course.
But some things never change. So when ex-envoy, now-convict Takeshi Kovacs has his consciousness and skills downloaded into the body of a nicotine-addicted ex-thug and presented with a catch-22 offer, he really shouldn't be surprised. Contracted by a billionaire to discover who murdered his last body, Kovacs is drawn into a terrifying conspiracy that stretches across known space and to the very top of society.
Altered Carbon is compulsively readable. It’s fast-paced, full of sex and violence, and just grabbed my attention.
Kovacs is our rather hard-boiled detective. He’s is a loner with a tendency to violence and a willingness to do whatever he needs to, legal or otherwise. He is also more than willing to take “justice” into his own hands and wracks up a body count to prove it. He also has a softer side that only shows up rarely. He was killed on another world and re-sleeved in Bay City in the body of a disgraced cop. People’s personalities, souls, consciousness, whatever you want to call it, are digitized and can be downloaded into new bodies with the right reasons or enough cash. Kovac’s has one mission: find out who killed Laurens Bancroft, a Meth (short for Methusaleh) billionaire. Bancroft is offering Kovacs some money and more importantly his freedom as a reward. Only a lot of people don’t seem to want to know why Bancroft killed himself.
Kovacs’ quest takes him through the seedy underworld of the Bay City sex trade, among other places. The action is fast and furious and the sci-fi elements enhance the mystery rather than being tacked on. The mystery, as it stands, couldn’t have been pulled off in a more traditional setting, although Kovacs himself could fit well. The mystery itself has plenty of twists and turns, but not as many actual suspects as one might expect. Bay City is a futuristic and dirtier San Francisco. It’s a good setting, one that’s easy to picture and fits the noir feeling of the book perfectly.
As most sci-fiction, interwoven through the mystery is an exploration of what the ability to download into different bodies may mean, from “eternal” life, to societal punishment (jail? death penalty?) to religious redemption (can you be reborn if you never die?). As only the very, very rich can afford the frequent updates, cloning and storage, there’s a tension between the “Meta,” who have lived hundreds of years, and the “normal” person who is on their first body. Though the police are enforcers of order, they lack economic power, and part of the police’s refusal to investigate Bancroft’s suicide/murder further is a belief in the essential pointlessness of resolution when he’s already downloaded into a new body. Kovacs, like all good noir detectives, has a complicated relationship with the police he meets, particularly Lieutenant Ortega, chief investigator for the Bancroft case. Complicating the situation is the fact that Kovacs is currently sleeved in Ortega’s boyfriend’s body.
And a quote that stood out for me:
“The personal, as everyone’s so fucking fond of saying, is political. So if some idiot politician, some power player, tries to execute policies that harm you or those you care about, take it personally. Get angry. The Machinery of Justice will not serve you here – it is slow and cold, and it is theirs, hardware and soft-. Only the little people suffer at the hands of Justice; the creatures of power slide from under it with a wink and a grin. If you want justice, you will have to claw it from them. Make it personal. Do as much damage as you can. Get your message across. That way, you stand a better chance of being taken seriously next time.”
I could have done without a sex scene or two, but otherwise I thoroughly enjoyed Altered Carbon. But I do love a good noir novel, and dressing it up with a science fiction spin worked well. Or is it sci-fi with a noir twist? Either which way, I’ll probably pick up #2 in the series soon.