A further entry in Gollancz's aesthetically pleasing and highly collectable Future Classics series of 2006, Richard Morgan's Altered Carbon is an undemanding, well-written page turner that is cinematic in its aspirations, and engaging in its narrative drive.
The work relies heavily on staging a dramatic, high-speed, three-way collision between hard-boiled detective fiction, film noir atmospherics and cyberpunk themes in order to create its impact, but it is unquestionably successful in doing precisely that.
Altered Carbon does not really merit an extended review, as its interest lies principally in the pleasure of the unfolding of its plot. Envoy Takashi Kovacs finds himself 'resleeved' in the body of disgraced former police officer and undertakes a commission investigating the apparent suicide of Laurens Bancroft, a wealthy and long-lived 'Meth' (methusela), in order to release himself from a sentence of his own.
The concept of the 'stack' that assures the continuation of the host's personality in the event of their death, the two-day stack back up scheduling, and its connection to the plot is fully explained here, and as this work is more about plot than anything else, there seems little point in rehearsing it again. However, the notion that the stack would not be backed up in real time is very much this work's Achilles' heel, and makes the idea resemble the plot-enabling device that it is.
There is nevertheless much to enjoy within the delectable covers of this edition of Altered Carbon. Kovacs is every inch the drinking, smoking (albeit reluctantly due to the cravings of his host body) and womanizing Noir anti-hero, and the work careers along at a considerable pace. Whilst the concept of the stack may be laboured, the 'sleeving' notion is compelling and Morgan plays with its alienating outcomes on the human psyche masterfully. Other elements such as the AI hotel the Hendrix (yes, that Hendrix) give the work additional colour and depth. More SF fast food than SF fine dining, Altered Carbon is an excellent example of its type: pacey, punchy SF noir.