Book Review: Altered Carbon by Richard K Morgan

I’m a huge fan of the Cyberpunk science fiction genre. I love a futuristic gritty world where humanity seems to have gone back culturally but technology has advanced significantly. Altered Carbon is one of the best books at this and is accompanied by an in-depth crime story too.

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Altered Carbon is set four hundred years in the future when humanity has reached other worlds including Mars and people can have their existence uploaded and then downloaded into new bodies. We follow Takeshi Kovacs who finds himself in a new body ready to solve a crime bestowed upon him by one of the system’s richest men.

Plot – 4/5

Takeshi wakes up confused with slight memories of his past life and how died but he can’t concentrate on them as he’s quickly thrust into being asked to solve the murder of the previous body of a billionaire. A premise in itself that’s absolutely fascinating and keeps you on your toes as you progress through the book.

The world Morgan has created here is fantastic – there’s enough grittiness and poverty to make it feel cyberpunk whilst also throwing in enough advanced technology, references to space and the inclusion of new cultures to make it feel science fiction. Therefore, as Kovacs progressed through the story, meeting new characters, using different technology and advancing higher up into society where the deeper, darker works are going in, it’s really fun to be part of the journey.

The actual crime starts off fascinating but begins to plateau around halfway through as Kovacs deals with more personal issues and then ramps up again as we reach the crescendo of the book. It’s got just enough intrigue and twists to work out as a decent crime well solved.

Characters – 4/5

Takeshi Kovacs himself is a bit of… to coin an American phrase… ass. He’s not happy about being brought back to life in a second body, the body he’s brought back into is that of a 22-year old drug addict so he has a constant craving to smoke and get high and he’s not keen on the idea that he’s been brought back with a purpose rather than simply to live his own life. All of this results in him being often rude, stubborn and making some poor choices. However, I’d say this makes him a fantastic character. He’s not your typical morally guided hero and so it makes it feel far grittier and more real that someone like this would be who people call on to help with crimes. He’s not got the personality but he certainly must have some talent at solving crimes.

The supporting characters throughout the novel are also fantastic. Without giving away any spoilers there’s the comic relief character, the love interest and the stubborn, sister-like figure that Kovacs argues with secretly likes. These all make for some well-rounded characters that feel genuine and real in this futuristic world.

Altered Carbon summary – 4/5

Altered Carbon is, so far, my favourite cyberpunk science fiction novel – though that’s not saying much as there aren’t a vast number of them. However, it still has a fantastically realised world, a really interesting technologically USP with the recreation of lives system and some great supporting characters and main character. The reason I’ve not given it five stars is that I didn’t feel utterly enthralled the whole way through. There were certain points where I zoned out and simply lost track of what was going on. Whether this was more down to my own poor attention span or the slow pace of the book, I’ll leave it for you to decide.

I’d definitely recommend picking up Altered Carbon if you’re into the cyberpunk genre or looking for a gritty science fiction novel to get your teeth into. There are also sequels, however, these move across the system focusing on different characters and times.

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