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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Recently read: "Altered Carbon" by Richard K. Morgan

Altered Carbon

Altered Carbon

The first book Morgan published, I read it when the initial US edition came out.  Our book group picked it for this month, so I did a re-read.  In my first reading, I enjoyed it enough that I later bought the two sequels, and Morgan's two stand alone SF books.  Upon the second reading, I'm no longer such a big fan, though I can see it's appeal.  In Morgan's future, humans are issued a cortical stack, implanted after birth, into which their consciousness is download.  Death, as long as the stack is not destroyed, is therefore temporary, at least if you can afford a new body (the rich keep clones on tap, others have to get the means to buy a new "sleeve").  Takeshi Kovas is a former Envoy (a specially trained solider, taught to soak up information about new environments).  He's brought to earth ("needlecasted") and re sleeved by millionaire and centuries old Laurn Bancroft to investigate Bancroft death (Bancorft was backed up, and has been re sleeved into one of many clones).  There's a lot going on here: Bancroft's wife (equal old, in a young body), the Vatican pushing legislation that would be re sleeving of Catholics illegal, Kovacs enemines from his former Envoy days, the AI that projects itself as Jimi Hendrix (and running the hotel Kovacs stays at) and the distrust/possible emotion attachment of police lieutenant Kristin Ortega, the lover of the former owner of Kovacs' new body.

Morgan is clearly writing an update of the hard boiled detective story, trying to produce a 21st century Hammett or Chandler, but I don't think he quite pulls it off.  It's too over the top, with a lot of ultra violence, and to me a big problem is that the sex scenes are juvenile.  Ultimately, though Kovacs "wins", I think Morgan pulls his punch when he ends up letting a certain character go (compare the ending to that of "The Maltese Falcon").  He hints at the reason, but since the event that drives that reason happens off screen, it doesn't feel right.

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