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Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan

Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan

Set in the 25th century, humans have the technological means to store their consciousness in “stacks” at the base of the skull, and therefore the ability to have their consciousness downloaded (“sleeved”) into another body. The wealthy elite can afford to have their consciousness regularly backed up, and sleeved into a new body when necessary, thereby practically achieving immortality. They are called “meths”, a reference to Methuselah, the longest living human mentioned in the Scriptures.

Laurens Bancroft, a meth, apparently commits suicide. After getting re-sleeved from the previous backup, and obviously with no memory of said suicide, he is convinced there is a conspiracy to his “death”. He bails Takeshi Kovacs, an ex-UN Envoy (basically a soldier), out of storage and hires him as a private investigator. The story follows Kovacs’s investigation, written in first-person narrative.

This hardboiled, sci-fi cyberpunk detective story is an easy read. In many respects, it is a “standard” novel: over forty chapters spanning approximately 470 pages of a “down-and-out guy doing a job he can’t refuse”. But it works. Detective noir can involve a little more “telling” than “showing” but Morgan describes the thoughts and actions of characters with entertaining grit.

The worldbuilding is also skillfully handled, the details are peppered throughout, thereby avoiding chunky expositions. Morgan also avoids explicitly discussing the implications of sleeving on humanity. He simply allows the story to illustrate the implications. Never does the narrative feel like it drags, the pacing is quick but measured and steady. And he doesn’t cheaply rely on dramatic firefights every chapter either. Of course, the few he provides are beauties.

Those who are familiar with the manga and/or anime Ghost in the Shell by Shiro Masamune will find many similarities but there are many differences as well. Morgan’s world is overtly darker and grittier.


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