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Altered Carbon - Richard Morgan

A Book Review

Richard Morgan’s Altered Carbon was published in 2002 and was even picked up by Hollywood with the premise of adapting it to film. Although the film didn’t go to plan, the book has found a new life on Netflix and has even been renewed for a second season. Altered Carbon has risen to popularity as a Netfilx original series. However, after watching a few episodes of the first season, I decided to see what the original novel was like before I finished the series. Anyone who has already seen the series knows that the world presented is phenomenal along with the characters, so I wanted to see if the novel matched up to the hype of the show.

The novel is set in the twenty-fifth century, where human consciousness can now be stored and downloaded in to a new ‘sleeve’ or body, eradicating death. The protagonist is Takeshi Kovacs, an Envoy from Harlan’s World. Kovacs has been ordered to Bay City on Earth to help solve the death of Laurens Bancroft, a Meth. Meth’s on earth are shown as the all-powerful beings, they clone themselves instead of sleeving into new bodies, seem to have been around since sleeving began and have an endless supply of wealth. Kovacs is tasked with solving the murder of Bancroft to achieve his freedom and return to Harlan’s world. The sleeve he is wearing is that of Elias Ryker, a police detective, partner of Kristin Ortega who follows Kovacs in his unconventional attempt in solving the Bancroft murder.

After watching the first few episodes of the Netflix adaptation, I expected a lot more from the original novel. First of all, the novel begins in a strikingly similar way to the adaptation, to the point that both are almost parallel, and this is relevant in multiple scenes within the novel.

The story starts off very fast paced and indulges the reader in the twenty fifth century that Morgan has envisioned.The first few chapters introduce the mystery Takeshi Kovacs and the world with unexplained characters from his past as well as following his transition in to his new sleeve. The world and its problems that Morgan has created is consistent and knowing throughout. He describes this world to us without spoon-feeding every detail of how the future works, leaving the world familiar yet ambiguous. Ambiguity towards the reader is something Morgan plays on throughout when he introduces characters inside Kovacs head and names that seem significant but haven’t been introduced yet. Further in to the novel it is evident that too much ambiguity isn’t always a good thing as the novel almost snubs the reader by not informing it of background that is clearly significant to Kovacs. However, this ambiguity could be a result of the fact that this is the first book in the trilogy. The pace of the novel begins to slow as it approaches the middle, although this would be where I’d expect the pace to peak, yet slow, lack-lustre action scenes and realisations dominate the final few chapters. The novel, in its premise, is spectacular, and the world will make anyone envious of Morgan’s imagination. However, readers may feel disappointed in the predictable plot, and over-ambiguous build up, placed in an otherwise fascinating world.

Upon first reading, I didn’t think I wanted to finish the trilogy, but on reflection I feel that I can only collate a reasonable judgement of the Altered Carbon world if I read the other two novels.


Has anyone else finished the trilogy, were all your questions answered?

You can find a copy of Altered Carbon here