Science Fiction Book Review

Altered Carbon

(2002) Richard Morgan, Gollancz, 10.99, pbk, 404pp, ISBN 0-575-07322-5
(2007 reprint) Gollancz, 7.99, pbk, 470pp, ISBN 978-0-575-0-8112-3


In the 26th century humans can be stored on a cortical stack and can be downloaded into new bodies, for a price. Criminals are punished by being kept on stack for the duration of their sentence. Takeshi Kovacs is on stack on Harlan's World when he is needlecast to Earth by the multi-billionaire Laurens Bancroft. Kovacs is an ex-Envoy, the elite shock troops of the UN Protectorate, and has mental training beyond that of 'normal' humans. Bancroft wants Kovacs to put these skills to work in order to discover who had Bancroft killed, something he cannot remember himself since the stored copy of himself was not updated with the information. But as soon as Kovacs starts investigating he is attacked and finds himself on the trail of a mystery that goes much deeper than the killing of a billionaire. Why was Bancroft killed and who wants Kovacs dead? Why are the police reluctant to get involved and why do they believe that Bancroft committed suicide? Can Kovacs solve the mystery before he undergoes Real Death...?

This is a lovely noir thriller in the style of Chandler and Hammett detective stories, face-paced and compellingly written with a convincing backdrop. Morgan plays fair with the reader in this, his first, novel in that the mystery is soluble by the attentive reader, but not so easy that the ending will disappoint. There are lots of cultural references that are enjoyable to a certain kind of reader - for instance, is Kovacs named after 'Beat' Takeshi Kitano, director/actor of films such as Violent Cop and Sonatine? Given some of the action, and the violent nature of the plot, I'd say that was a good guess, but maybe I'm reading too much into it... Whatever, this is an excellent debut novel which I'm happy to recommend to all and sundry, but especially Chandler fans. I hope we'll see more of Morgan in the years ahead and I look forward hungrily to the next book.

Tony Chester

See Jonathan's review of Altered Carbon.

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