September 3rd, 2009

Stone & Sky

Altered Carbon, by Richard K. Morgan

Title: Altered Carbon
Author: Richard K. Morgan
Publisher: Del Rey Mass Market
Year: 2002
Pages: 526
Genre: Dystopian/Noir Science Fiction Mystery
Other Info: First novel by author; winner of Philip K. Dick Award
                                                                                                                                   

Cover Blub:
It's the twenty-fifth century, and advances in technology have redefined life itself. A person's consciousness can now be stored in the brain and downloaded into a new body (or "sleeve"), making death nothing more than a minor blip on a screen. Onetime U.N. Envoy Takeshi Kovacs has been killed before, but his last death was particularly painful. Resleeved into a body in Bay City (formerly San Francisco), Kovacs is thrown into the dark heart of a shady, far-reaching conspiracy that is vicious even by the standards or a society that treats existence as something that can be bought and sold. For Kovacs, the shell that blew a hole in his chest was only the beginning.


My Review:
There is nothing really new in the SF meets noir detective novel. On the noir side, there is the cynical, hard-boiled detective unwillingly drawn in to the machinations of the powerful; there are the beautiful women embroiled in the case in varying degrees, nearly all of whom eventually get bedded; there is the city filled to the brim with drug dealers, whorehouses, and little people being eaten up by the rich. On the SF side, there are hints of an ancient galactic civilization, now defunct; there are guns and computer programs to do anything anyone could want; there are A.I.s, particularly The Hendrix, which is a fabulous invention; and of course, there is the ubiquitous process of resleeving, by which death has been conquered – for the rich. Even the melding of the two genres is not new: it dates back at least to Isaac Asimov’s Elijah Bailey/R. Daneel Olivaw novels.

What Altered Carbon provides, however, is all of those familiar elements done up in a superb style. It is an extraordinarily visual book – I understood from the first page of the prologue why Joel Silver and Warner Bros. bought the film rights for $1 million. The narrative is fast-paced, the tone is spot-on, and the philosophical musings, while also not ground-breaking in any way, are moments to savor rather than skip over. The mystery is satisfyingly twisty but still fair to the reader, and the final confrontation ratchets up the tension to a screaming pitch then uses the bare minimum of words to choreograph the denoument. Really an impressive first novel, and one I heartily enjoyed.

I do have one quibble, however: I read the author bio in the back of the book first, and two of the three sentences were about the film rights. I found this a tad tasteless, not very informative, and kind of distracting, as I spent the entire novel trying to imagine how someone would film it. :)

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