Altered Carbon page 2: Quotes

Altered Carbon cover 2

Pull on the new flesh like borrowed gloves and burn your fingers once again.

Graffiti Kovacs finds on a bench.

Every book/movie/game/song/whatever has some memorable, quotable lines (”I’ll be back,” “Take the red pill…”) that grab our attention in one manner or another. Altered Carbon is chock full of quotable lines that can speak for our current times. Not only from Kovacs himself, but of the characters he encounters and remembers.


Kristin Ortega, regarding Catholics:

Kovacs, I hate these goddamn freaks. They’ve been grinding us down for the best part of two and a half thousand years. They’ve been responsible for more misery than any other organization in history. You know they won’t even let their adherents practice birth control, for Christ’s sake, and they’ve stood against every significant medical advance for the last five centuries. Practically the only thing you can say in their favor is that this D.H.F. thing has stopped them from spreading with the rest of humanity.

Ortega on Meths:

You live that long, things start happening to you. You get too impressed with yourself. Ends up, you think you’re God. Suddenly the little people, thirty, maybe forty years old, well, they don’t really matter anymore. You’ve seen whole societies rise and fall, and you start to fell you’re standing outside it all, and none of it really matters to you. And maybe you’ll start snuffing those little people, just like picking daisies, if they get under your feet.

I’m not talking about Bancroft. I’m talking about his kind. They’re like A.I.s. They’re a breed apart. They’re not human. They deal with humanity the way you and I deal with insect life.

Reileen Kawahara (another Meth) on power:

Power is habitually buried. Think of the Protectorate bunkers on Harlan’s World. Or the Caverns the Envoy Corps hid you in while you were made over in their image. The essence of control is to remain hidden from view, is it not?

Kawahara, on the value of human life:

Human life has no value. Haven’t you learned that yet, Takeshi, with all you’ve seen? It has no value, intrinsic to itself. Machines cost money to build. Raw materials cost money to extract. But people? You can always get some more people. They reproduce like cancer cells, whether you want them to or not. They are abundant, Takeshi. Why should they be valuable? Do you know that it cost us less to recruit and use up a real snuff whore than it does to set up and run a virtual equivalent format? Real human flesh is cheaper than a machine. It’s the axiomatic truth of our times.

Jimmy de Soto (a fellow Envoy who is dead) on reality:

You think we’ve got the handle on reality, just ’cause we can record bits of it. More to it than that, pal. More to it than that.

de Soto, while Kovacs is being tortured in a construct:

Well, in a construct situation, what you got to do is get to the next screen somehow. Right?

Kovacs on people in power:

… like all men of power, when he talked of prices worth paying, you could be sure of one thing.

Someone else was paying.

Dimitri Kadmin, before a fight with Kovacs/Ryker:

How shall I explain the dying that was done?
Shall I say that each one did the math, and wrote
The value of his days
Against the bloody margin, in an understated hand?
They will want to know
How was the audit done?
And I shall say that it was done,
For once,
By those who knew the worth
Of what was spent that day.


Enter Quellcrist Falconer. Now things get interesting. Quellcrist Falconer is a revolutionary from Harlan’s World, who fought the ruling elite of that planet in what has become known as the “Unsettlement.” She was reportedly killed when the helicopter she was riding in was vaporized by an orbital, a Martian weapons platform in orbit around Harlan’s World.

Quell never appears in Altered Carbon, but we learn about what she must have been like as Kovacs and others start quoting her, and many of her quotes have a distinct political tone about them.

Kovacs makes the first Quell quote as he describes the use of Protectorate’s use of armed troops to stop planetary uprisings:

You can transmit the information, via hyperspatial needlecast, so close to instantaneously that the scientists are still arguing about the terminology, but that, to quote Quellcrist Falconer, deploys no bloody divisions.

Kovacs on the progress of his investigation:

Progress is difficult to define, your honor. As Quell would have it, they come to me with progress reports, but all I see is change, and bodies burnt.

Kovacs reciting what Quellcrist wrote about Harlan’s World rulers:

If they want you, sooner or later they’ll scoop you up off the globe, like specks of interesting dust off a Martian artefact. Cross the gulf between the stars, and they’ll come after you. Go into centuries of storage, and they’ll be there waiting for you, clone-new, when you re-sleeve. They are what we once dreamed of as gods, mythical agents of destiny, as inescapable as Death, that poor old peasant labourer, bent over his scythe, no longer is. Poor Death, no match for the mighty altered carbon technologies of data storage and retrieval arrayed against him. Once we lived in terror of his arrival. Now we flirt outrageously with his sombre dignity, and beings like these won’t even let him in the tradesman’s entrance.

And about politics:

There are some arenas so corrupt that the only clean acts possible are nihilistic.

Dimitri Kadmin quotes Quell on lackeys:

Kill them along the way, but count your bullets, for there are more worthy targets.

Kovacs, in response to Dimitri’s “How shall I explain the dying that was done here?”:

If you want to lose a fight, talk about it first.

* Furies

Kovacs, before sacrificing himself:

When they ask how I died, tell them: still angry.

More Quell quotes:

The human eye is a wonderful device. With a little effort, it can fail to see even the most glaring injustice.

* Poems and Other Prevarications

Is it a wolf I hear,
Howling his lonely communion
With the unpiloted stars,
Or merely the self importance and servitude
In the bark of a dog?

How many millenia did it take,
Twisting and torturing
The pride from the one
To make a tool,
The other?

And how do we measure the distance from spirit to spirit?
And who do we find to blame?

* Poems and Other Prevarications

But the best Quellcrist gem has to be this paragraph that starts chapter 15, which Kovacs takes literally:

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. Of being considered dangerous. And make no mistake about this: being taken seriously, being considered dangerous marks the difference - the only difference in their eyes - between players and little people. Players they will make deals with. Little people they liquidate. And time and again they cream your liquidation, your displacement, your torture and brutal execution with the ultimate insult that it’s just business, it’s politics, it’s the way of the world, it’s a tough life and that it’s nothing personal. Well, fuck them. Make it personal.

* Things I Should Have Learned by Now, Volume II

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June 17, 2008

Cadet SF said:

I first read Altered Carbon as part of a Literature for Screenwriting Class at college. I really did not like it at first read as a lot of elements were heavily influenced by Blade Runner (or at least seemed so then) to the point of rip-off. Additionally we read it with Burning Chrome (just the short story, not the whole book)and Altered Carbon never seemed to quite entrance me like Neuromancer, Johnny Mnemonic or Burning Chrome could. I re-read the book about 6 months ago and my opinion of the novel improved greatly. I think in going over everything again the more original elements came out, the characters, the quotes of a made up philosophy, and Kovacs background story really made it a rich story. The best part I feel though, is Kovacs character, hes killed plenty of people, but like the classic noir hero, he may not be conventional, but he sure does have his own set of morals and sticks to them.

July 21, 2008

Jason O'Toole said:

Richard K. Morgan is a regular guy as well - while I was reading his novels, if I had a question, I’d shoot him an e-mail and he’d actually get back to me.

I had the audacity to do this with William S. Burroughs and a few other writers when I was a younger fella - and have found that the best writers will take time out for their fans.

Altered Carbon is the start of a real labor of love - a LOT of thought, daydreaming, and love went into these books. I enjoy the hell out of ‘em. And as someone who has seen violence first hand on the job, I can attest that Morgan does a super-fine job at describing it - esp. for a guy who was an English teacher and not a Marine.

August 20, 2008

Pasiphae said:

I’d have completely missed this gem of a novel. I’ve not finished it yet, I’m trying to ration it until I secure the sequels.
Wouldn’t usually gush about a book, but this one really is a page turner and according to Wiki (I know, I know) the rumours of a film conversion have started.

Heres to Morgan, Kovacs (with a ‘ch’) and Ortega…

Merge Nine, where would I get a trial?

October 4, 2008

Elkh said:

Hi ! I loved what you did about this book. I’m looking for something similar about the seconde volume about Kovacs, Broken Angels. Do you know if there is something of that kind on the web ? I’m French and i’d like to be able to quote the text in its original version.

Anyway, thanks for that great analysis.

October 15, 2008

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August 25, 2009

xyzer said:

The best quote imho from the series is still one of Virginia Vidaura (Kovac’s envoy trainer)

“Don’t worry about anything, and you will be ready for it”

January 25, 2010

baobab68 said:

It’s not really a quote, but the casual revelation he makes that mankind can now directly communicate with the whales, and the information that the whales have since revealed!! is the single standout set of paragraphs that have really blown me away as I read this book.

October 19, 2011

willid said:

merge 9…no kidding,huh..whew

April 7, 2012

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