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March 18, 2008

Altered Carbon - Richard Morgan

Altered Carbon, by Richard Morgan, has been sitting on my shelf for a while, I've been saving it. The prospect of a full-on noir post-cyberpunk action thriller seemed like the sort of thing I'd love. Strangely I think I've found that my tastes have changed. I can imagine having read Altered Carbon when I was a teenager, when I was reading Ludlum and Forsyth books, and loving it. But now, it grated on me, I'll try and explain (to myself as well) why.

Takeshi Kovacs is a super-soldier with a dubious past, and despite being press-ganged into helping a super-rich super-old man on Earth, I never felt at all sorry for him. He is cocky, and cold and quite unlikeable. Consequently I never really cared what happened to him, and never really believed he was at risk, despite the often desperate situations he found himself in. 

The future Earth in the book is a pretty grim place, I guess that's the noir thing, but it didn't have the style of William Gibson's Sprawl, it all felt a bit depressing and lacking flair. What intrigued me more were mentions of Kovacs past, and the wars he fought on other worlds, but they were only glimpses into his past.

The book is also very violent, with a generous helping of sex, something I'm sure I wouldn't have minded in the past, but somehow, now, it annoyed me, the way mindless action films annoy me. And it seemed to drag on and on, with plot twists and guessing games, and I just never got into it.

What is good, is the idea at the centre of the future world(s), that people can inhabit multiple bodies: re-sleeving. Some intriguing consequences are spun off the central concept, but I can't help feeling that they were all secondary to the action and I'd have liked them explored in more detail. 

So, in the end I was disappointed, and I'm not sure whether it was because I wasn't in the mood, or whether I just don't like this sort of book anymore, or if I ever did.  

3 Comments

I think of all the things I enjoyed about this book it was just the idea of travel at the speed of light being so cleverly overcome by downloading our minds and transmitting them into loaner bodies. Interesting that this is coming up today when I read this post about downloading the mind today: http://www.indranet.org/downloading-our-mind/

I was sufficiently intrigued with the concept of re-sleeving (and all of its societal implications) to ignore some of the quibbles you mention.

You might give Broken Angels a try; it involves Kovacs as a soldier, and the Martians are explored in more detail.

I met Morgan at a kaffeeklatsch at the Glasgow WorldCon; he commented that he'd been given some outlandish retainer to write a long series of fantasy books, so it might be a while before he produces any more SF.

Don't worry - it's just not a very good book!

Now - stop wasting your time on this tripe and get some Vernor Vinge read. I noticed here:

http://bigdumbobject.co.uk/2008/02/the-twenty-scie.html

that you haven't got through 'A Fire Upon the Deep' or 'A Deepness in the Sky' - even though you've got the latter sitting on your shelf! He may be decidedly un-prolific, and some of his early stuff is not quite on the same level, but those two books are the very definition of thought provoking space opera.

The places he goes with pervasive computing (particularly in A Deepness) are both awe-inspiring and terrifying - the really scary part being the utter logical inevitability you realise his ideas represent. Seriously - I got echoes of reading Snow Crash or Neuromancer reading that one.

That's just one small part though - apart from all that he his a true story teller, which is always the key thing, isn't it? I couldn't put them down - you'll love 'em!