I had been looking forward to reading Altered Carbon, the debut by Scottish author Richard K. Morgan and the first book in his Takeshi Kovacs trilogy, for some time since I had read stellar reviews of it. I loved the Robot mysteries by Asimov (at least the last three, the first one was all right but not nearly as good as the later ones) and the way he intertwined science fiction with detective stories, so I had high hopes for this book which also was a sci fi detective story.
Takeshi Kovacs, a former Envoy from Harlan’s World, is sent to Earth by a powerful man named Laurens Bancroft to solve the mystery of Bancroft’s death. Yes, you read that right – death is not usually permanent at this time (about 500 years in the future) since a person’s memories and consciousness are stored in a cortical stack which could be downloaded to a new body. If the stack is destroyed, this would result in R.D. – real death. Bancroft’s memory of events leading up to his death did not get downloaded with him and he cannot believe he would kill himself, especially when he knows such an act would not accomplish anything since it was not permanent. Takeshi does not have much choice in the matter and gets caught up in a lot of skirmishes and intrigue in the process of discovering what happened.
The world in the story was fascinating to me. The results of living in a world where people could be around for hundreds of years in specialized bodies was interesting to me. I loved the little things in the story that told of the difficulty of meeting somebody you knew yet did not know when they were resleeved (the process of being downloaded into a new body – the bodies were called sleeves) – or when somebody new was sleeved into the body belonging to someone you used to know.
Unfortunately, I found the world Morgan created to be far more interesting than the actual story he was telling. It was a very action-packed story, but too action-packed for my taste since it was mostly action without much in the way of character development. It was very “male” – lots of sex, violence, and swearing. I wouldn’t recommend reading it if you’re offended by any of those since it wasn’t glossed over, but was quite graphic at times.
I might read the next two books in the series, Broken Angels and Woken Furies, since I’m curious about what happens, and Woken Furies is supposed to be about the part of the story I’d be more interested in – Kovacs’s past on Harlan’s World. I won’t be in any hurry to read them, though. I would probably give Altered Carbon a 5/10 for the story, but since I found the world really interesting, I’ll rate it a little higher…
It kind of reminded me of the David Farland’s Runelords series in that the story and writing weren’t particularly wonderful, but the world made it worth reading, although I liked the Runelords books better (even though the writing was worse).
Woken Furies has been out in the UK for some time, but according to Amazon, it won’t be out in the U.S. until the end of this month (May 29). That seems kind of odd since Morgan’s new book, Thirteen, is coming out in the U.S. on June 27th. (Thirteen is the U.S. title – it’s called Black Man in the U.K., but I guess that wasn’t a politically correct enough title for the U.S.) I’ve heard mixed reviews of Thirteen/Black Man – some people say it’s one of the scifi books of 2007, but I’ve also heard it’s too preachy for some people.