Altered Carbon (Takeshi Kovacs 01) by Richard K. Morgan


Twenty fifth century, Earth. A rich, influential man called Laurens Bancroft has been killed – or killed himself – in his own house. However, with his consciousness being carefully stored and updated every 48 h, he was promptly downloaded to a body of a clone of himself so he could continue living. Now he wants to know the truth behind that strange accident. Was it his wife, Miriam? Was it an assassin hired by his enemies? Because most certainly it couldn’t have been him, right?

In order to find out who dared to kill him so inefficiently he sends for a former U.N. Envoy Takeshi Kovacs, currently in storage (so dead). Kovacs was condemned not so long ago but when money speaks he is promptly resleeved into a body in Bay City (formerly San Francisco) and then made a proposition he cannot refuse.

Thrown into the dark heart of a shady, far-reaching conspiracy that is vicious even by the standards of a society that treats existence as something that can be bought and sold Kovacs is not sure who are his allies and enemies. It seems for him the shell that blew a hole in his chest was only the beginning.

My impressions:

I had been eyeing this one for ages and, even though it was touted as a Philip Dick Award winning novel I couldn’t get round to reading it. Maybe the ‘cyberpunk’ tag was putting me off, who knows.

After I started to read it I got hooked immediately. At first Takeshi proved to be a great character to follow and, while he was solving the crime mystery, the author sneaked in almost philosophical musings about life, morality and technology. What makes us truly human? What makes us us? If your inner persona was ‘transplanted’ into another body, would it impact how you feel about others? These were real highlights of the book and Morgan never made them sound boring. However, after a while I had to force myself to continue reading and the ending dragged and dragged forever.

Cool ideas are one thing, proper plot and believable story arcs are quite another. It seemed to me that at some point, roughly after the middle of the book, the author started to repeat himself and his character, instead of moving forward and solving the mystery was just cussing and throwing his weight around with the help of weapons he didn’t buy and artificial neurachem he didn’t inject into himself. He was becoming a colossus on feet of clay. The supporting cast members: the Bancrofts, Ortega, Trepp, Kadmin, Elliot, Kawahara, while serving to further the storyline, didn’t resonate so much. Add to that some cringe-worthy sex scenes (first person narrative is a real drag in those unless you are a literary genius) and you might understand my difficulties with finishing this one.

In the end nothing was really accomplished, not really, and nothing achieved. As the story unfurled, everybody seemed to get just dirtier and dirtier, almost beyond pity or affection. The main thread kept meandering to and fro until I stopped to care about the answers. Even the final gesture of Kovacs (not spoiling so I am being deliberately vague) somehow lost its impact, all things considering. I like rather more than less darkness in my books. Still dark doesn’t necessarily equals dirty.

Final verdict:

An interesting start to a series with a great worldbuilding and a protagonist as shadowy as your average wraith. It’s been called ‘hard-boiled’ and ‘noir’. I wonder why nobody cared to add the word ‘dirty’.  Meh.

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10 Responses to Altered Carbon (Takeshi Kovacs 01) by Richard K. Morgan

  1. heidenkind says:

    Was there walking and talking?

  2. Melfka says:

    I’ve read it in my early twenties and back then the book had hooked me in by a mere fact that the first chapter featured the main character’s death (and the story continued after that instead of going into flashbacks). I also liked the idea of altered carbon (I know it’s not super-unique, but it was new to me at the time).
    I enjoyed it enough, but I think I liked the second book better, mostly because it has more sci-fi feel to it than cyberpunk. On the other hand, I don’t even remember if I’ve ever read the third book… O.o

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