Altered Carbon

30 Oct
30 October 2009



Memento Review of Altered Carbon (Richard K. Morgan)


 Author’s first novel.  Probably the best cyberpunk I’ve read since Neuromancer.  He does an excellent job of crafting an interesting world and presenting hardboiled conversation and action that often seems missing in a lot of SF. 


Makes me think a lot of the Tex Murphy Mean Streets stuff….


One of the central concepts is the idea of “sleeving”, the ability to transfer consciousness to different bodies.  Everyone has an implant at the base of their skull which records all experiences.  If you are killed, and can afford it, they just pop you into a new body.  The lucky can get a new body at some point.  The rich can change them like different outfits and effectively live forever.  Destroying this implant is the only way to really kill someone (assuming there is no backup). 


 One of the original uses for this was maintaining order on far flung interstellar colonies.  You cannot keep troops everywhere and travel is far too slow to respond to an emergency.  So, they keep bodies on all the planets and just “needlecast” the consciousness of soldiers into these as needed.


Protagonist, Takeshi Kovaks, is a member of the Envoy corps, a special forces type outfit that has special training to deal with this chaos that can come with waking up in a strange body, in the middle of a war, on a planet you’ve never heard of.


Envoys have a tendency to become disillusioned and thereafter utilize their skills for crime.  Kovaks begins the story this way — he has been arrested and is in “jail”.  With sleeving, jail is “the stacks” — they pop your consciousness into digital storage and your physical body is elsewhere (sold, rented out to the wealthy).  Kovaks has been fished out of jail early by a very wealthy man, Laurens Bancroft, who wants his special skills.


Laurens appears to have committed suicide.  As one of the very wealthy, his consciousness was backed up routinely, so they just popped him into a new body (“decanted”) after this.  Laurens doesn’t believe that he committed suicide (as it makes no sense to kill yourself when you know you’re backed up), he thinks he was murdered.  The police won’t do any more investigation.  Laurens has sprung Kovaks to do it for him. 


Plot bits:


Kawahara runs one of “the houses”, brothels that cater to the very rich.  She provides an array of services for her clients, including snuff.  She only uses Catholics because Catholics cannot be put into a new body after they are killed (the Catholic church feels that sleeving is blasphemy).  One of her girls washes up on shore after being killed by a client.  The police find her and can tell she was murdered.


(The cop who won’t let things go is Elias Ryker, who knew the murdered girl and who Kawahara has to have framed to get out of the way.  While he’s in jail, his body is available.  Laurens rents Ryker’s sleeve for Kovaks to use while he is in his employ as a way to get revenge on another officer, Kristen Ortega, for ruling his murder a suicide.  Ortega is also Ryker’s lover.)


Normally, they’d just sleeve the victim and ask who killed them.   They cannot because she’s Catholic.  This would be the end of things in most cases but at this point Resolution 653 is up for consideration — a resolution that would allow the police to sleeve dead Catholics for such purposes.


Kawahara needs 653 defeated to prevent having the murder land at her feet.  She reached out to Laurens to help her.  They have been friends for a long time and he has a habit of making use of her services after he closes a big deal.  He refuses to help.  


Kawahara engineers a plot involves Laurens wife, Miraim, who has a history of jealousy over his infidelity.  While Laurens is away on business using a “transit clone” (Laurens can be at a meeting across the planet by needlecasting into a clone stored there), Miriam arranged to have his local body massively dosed with synamorphesterone, a “male response enhancer” that boost aggression and sexual prowess.  Laurnes closes the deal, returns to his local sleeve and heads to Kawahara’s to celebrate– the drug takes effect and Laurens kills the girl Kawahara sets him up with (which she records, of course). 


Now they both stand to fall for a murder if Resolution 653 passes.  Once he starts to come down, Laurens heads for home.  He does commit suicide — he kills himself before his scheduled backup transmission to prevent the memory of the murder from being stored.

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