Altered Carbon (Gollancz SF S.)
by Richard Morgan
Review by John Berlyne
Gollancz Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 0575073217
Date: 28 February 2002 List Price £17.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Article /
Special Feature: Richard Morgan Interview
In Altered Carbon, Richard Morgan has written a real firecracker of a book. That this is a debut novel makes it all the more astonishing. The novel is centred on a wonderfully thought out SF idea. The concept of a person's personality being preserved through technology literally downloaded is in itself, not a new one, but in this brilliantly inventive and executed novel the author explores and develops this idea, continually examining its implications and dangers.From official release/information:
Amazon.co.uk Review: Richard Morgan's debut SF thriller Altered Carbon isn't for the faint-hearted. Its noir private-eye investigation races through extreme violence, hideously imaginative torture and many high-tech firefights.
In 2411, death is not forever. Afterward, they can read your personality from an implanted "cortical stack" and upload you into a new body--at a price. Hero Kovacs has worn many bodies on different worlds as a former member of the UN Envoy Corps, programmed killers to a man. Now the incredibly rich Bancroft brings him to Earth to investigate a killing... of Bancroft himself, restored from his digital backup and rejecting the police theory of suicide.
Half the vice-lords of 25th-century San Francisco are soon chasing Kovacs with futuristic surveillance, drugs and weaponry. Virtual-reality interrogation means they can torture you to death, and then start again. There's a bleak slave trade in rented or confiscated bodies--and Kovacs finds his current borrowed face is all too well known to both police and underworld.
Ultraviolent set-pieces follow, sprinkled with philosophical asides such as this reflection on a stungun: "It was the single forgiving phrase in the syntax of weaponry I had strapped around me. The rest were unequivocal sentences of death."
There are some James-Bondian implausibilities, such as Kovacs's final confrontation with the villain he's sworn to kill: rather than shooting and leaving fast, he discusses the plot for 10 pages until... but that would be telling. This is high-tension SF action, hard to put down--though squeamish readers may shut their eyes rather frequently. --David Langford