Cyberpunk Review » Altered Carbon

June 14, 2008

Altered Carbon

Book Review By: Mr. Roboto

Author: Richard Morgan

Year: 2002

Category: Cyberpunk Books

Altered Carbon cover 1

The next generation of cyberpunk has arrived… in 2002. Richard K. Morgan’s debut novel has brought forth a new era of cyberpunk literature that has already produced dividends from Ryan Span (Street: Empathy) and Mr. Morgan himself with two sequels and an unrelated book. JIVE Magazine has gone so far as to name him The New King of Cyberpunk Fiction. Even now, a movie is being made from this book (IMDb reference - Empty for now) due to be released in 2009.

Cyberpunk is said to have that “noir” atmosphere about it, borne of hardboiled detective tomes. Altered Carbon takes the noir factor and overclocks it to make it read like a detective novel. Or, maybe it’s a detective novel that takes the cyberpunk factor and overclocks it to make it read like a cyberpunk novel. However you want to look at it, Altered Carbon is a novel that needs to be read, then read several more times.


They wear their stacks on their sleeves. To better understand the premise of the novel, a quick overview of the key technologies featured…

First, you have “sleeves,” cloned bodies for when you die. For the sleeve, there’s the “stack,” a recording device that’s implanted at the base of your brain when you’re born. The stack records and stores your every thought, emotion, sensation, memory, etc. Your digitized brain can then be uploaded to virtuality, or transmitted (”needlecast”) across the galaxy, where a new sleeve awaits your arrival on another planet.

If your meat body dies, the stack is removed and “re-sleeved” (implanted into a new clone body) so you can continue your existence. That’s IF you have the insurance, loving relatives, or a sleeve-fund ready to pay for the new bod. Otherwise, you go into storage, possibly for centuries. Also, the stack itself can be corrupted or outright destroyed, resulting in “real death.” Some are fortunate, and rich, enough to have their stacks backed up like you would back up your hard drives. Backups are done every couple of days, so if your stack is destroyed, the backup is re-sleeved and you loose a day or two of memories. For someone who has the cash, they can have several sleeves at the ready along with a backed up stack, theoretically enabling them to live forever. Those who have lived through several sleeves are known as Methuselahs, or simply “Meths.”

One such Meth is Laurens Bancroft. Bancroft recently had his head destroyed, along with his stack. Because he had a backup of his stack done a couple of days before, he was able to be re-sleeved, but has no memory of the events leading up to his “death.” The police said Bancroft committed suicide, but he doesn’t believe them and hires an outsider to conduct his own investigation. That outsider’s name: Takeshi Lev Kovacs.


The universe through Kovacs’ eyes. Kovacs is a former U.N. “Envoy,” a form of super-soldier who undergoes special spiritual/psychological training to prepare them to adapt new new bodies quickly for interstellar deployment. Often these new bodies are augmented with neuro-chemical implants to enhance their sleeve’s senses and abilities. Because of their training Envoys are banned from holding government jobs on any world and tend to turn to a life of crime upon leaving the corps. Kovacs was serving time in storage for an unspecified crime when he gets needlecast to Earth and re-sleeved as Elias Ryker, a Bay City (San Francisco) cop, to investigate Bancroft’s death.

From the prologue, where Kovacs is killed, to the end of the novel, we get to experience Kovacs’ adventure through his senses. In a way, this book may actually be Kovacs’ stack transmitted back from 500 years in the future. During his investigation, we see how his Envoy training serves him, especially during a particularly nasty torture in virtuality.


Catholics… or How religion poisons the future. An interesting thread in the novel concerns Resolution 653, a case in a U.N. court where a dead Catholic is going to be subpoenaed and made to testify by re-sleeving. The Vatican has decried re-sleeving as blasphemy, claiming that a human soul is not saved on the stack but goes directly to God upon death. About the only good news about this is that Catholics are easy targets for murder, since they won’t be re-sleeved to testify against their attackers.


This book needs to be imprinted upon your stack. If you preferred to read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? over watching Blade Runner, Altered Carbon is something to put on your “must read” list. Just like reading cyberpunk novels? Here you go. Want to see what the next generation of cyberpunk fiction is like? Take a look. Prefer detective novels over cyberpunk? You’re at the wrong site, but Altered Carbon is definitely noir enough for you.


Page 2: Quotable quotes from Altered Carbon –>>


This post has been filed under Cyberpunk Books by Mr. Roboto.


June 15, 2008

Com Wedge said:

Oh my god, Joel Silver is doing it if anyone ruins a good story its him and Warner Bros. Doesn’t look like they have assigned a director yet. But here is some more info:

Richard Morgan Novel
Albert Torres Screenplay - the only thing he has been credited for as a writer in the past is - Henry Poole Is Here. A few future screenplays so he is a noob in Hollywood.

Navid McIlhargey … executive producer
Joel Silver … producer

June 16, 2008

Kevin Bacon said:

Too true.

I think we can truly look for star performances from Kevin Bacon and Sandra Bullock. Angelina Jolie will play a role somewhere and they’ll probably get some C lister from Buffy the Vampire or Firefly as a baddie!

June 24, 2008

John said:

I can’t believe how overhyped this book is. I can’t believe i’ve wasted some hours
from my life reading it. I can’t possibly believe it got an award. Standards must be
pretty fucking low these days.

“New king of cyberpunk” —> No fucking way
“Better than Gibson” —> Not even close, _not even in the same universe_

Whilst anything by Gibson reads like “poetry of the streets” is gritty, _REALISTIC_
and RAW, the abomination that calls itself Altered Carbon has few redeeming qualities.

What can i say about the cliches, the cheap/unrealistic/boring dialogue and
uninspiring premise. The book has fuck all to do with CYBERPUNK. It can be
accuratelly described as a mismash of pseudo-noir and combination of SF cliches with Tom Clancy.

The characters are wooden and totally fake. Morgan’s imagination of a dystopian future is extremelly shallow whilst at the same time ripping off writers with
_talent_ left and right but never quite capturing the essense. And that is my problem with the book. When it all comes down to it, its SHALLOW and reads like
a cheap mindless action novel cattered to brainless idiots who need everything
pointed out and explained.

If this is the new wave of cyberpunk, the term should be abolished and the genre
declared dead:

“No Reileen. This is about you and me. You should have left Sarah alone. You should have left me alone while you could.”

“Ohhh,” she cooed, mock maternal. “Did you get manipulated. I’m sorry.” She dropped the tone just as abruptly. “You’re an Envoy, Kovacs. You live by manipulation. We all do. We all live in the great manipulation matrix and it’s just one big struggle to stay on top.”

I shook my head. “I didn’t ask to be dealt in.”

“Kovacs, Kovacs.” Kawahara’s expression was suddenly almost tender. “None of us ask to be dealt in. You think I asked to be born in Fission City, with a web-fingered dwarf for a father and a psychotic whore for a mother. You think I asked for that? We’re not dealt in, we’re thrown in, and after that it’s just about keeping your head above water.”

July 31, 2008

APX said:

This book is fantastic, it’s fast, haves lots of sex and violence, and some really cool ideas.
I really enjoyed reading it.

For sure isn’t Gibson and lacks that street feeling Gibson haves, but I recommend this book anyway.

The next two of the series… sucked… totally… the 3rd one I didn’t even finish reading it.

July 26, 2009

SolidFake said:

I’ve finally ordered the book and read through it, and I must say, I really liked it!
The idea of the stacks is really interesting, it makes you think a lot about it.
The only negative aspect I recognized was that it was really boring to read at the beginning, but in the end it grows to a action filled detective thriller.

February 4, 2010

NoCoastPunk said:

Am I the only one that didn’t truly appreciate Gibson? His books to me read so slowly. It was like watching Gone With The Wind or some other classic; while truly groundbreaking and great in it’s own right and time, reading it just felt painful and fatiguing.

NOT SO with Altered Carbon. This is by far one of my favorite books of any genre, let alone sci-fi/cyberpunk! This book was one of those books I couldn’t put down, that I wanted to get home and read rather than do anything else…and that’s really hard for any book to do to me.

Cliches or not, this book was witty, dark, Kovacs is a badass, sex, violence…you got everything here (besides, how is the whole sleeving aspect cliche John?!). The noir feel is over the top and I love it! I feel too many sci-fi novels focus too much on the sci-fi aspect and not enough on entertaining me. Does this make the book cheap and dumbed down? I don’t know and I don’t care, this is a MUST read if you ask me if you are into sci-fi, cyberpunk, noir, hardboiled, detective novels.

Too bad the sequels got poor reviews. I was really psyched to read them after Altered Carbon, but decided against it after reading so many bad reviews of them. Shame really.

October 24, 2010

branchenverzeichnis online said:

Please, can you PM me and tell me few more thinks about this, I am really fan of your blog… 34

April 11, 2012

Lok said:

Gibson is good with the tactile feel he throws into the hodgepodge futuristic landscapes he creates, but he can be tedious to read at times. That being said I still own all of his books.

Altered Carbon is the next best thing since Gibson has largely given up on the cyberpunk genre to explore the gestalt of today and our gradual development, fun but not as fun as cyberpunk.

For those who decry or haven’t read Fallen Angels or Woken Furies, you should. I liked both, but then I’ve also taken the time to dig into the underlying message about a thoroughly corrupt society and the way it functions. In Gibson’s stories it’s there but evolved into a complete hyper eccentricism whereas with Morgan’s writing, it’s a nasty in your face common denominator, personally I prefer a combination of the two. But in an either or universe I’d take the in your face type.

The film has new backers and is slated for release in 2014

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