Whether you are looking for an exciting, gritty sci-fi thriller/mystery novel to sink your teeth into, or if you have watched the first two seasons of this Netflix series and need more, I highly recommend reading Altered Carbon by Richard Morgan. This cyberpunk series about a future in which human consciousness is stored and transferred contains some of the best sci-fi books of the past decade.
The Basic Story
Altered Carbon is a fantastic new noir mystery in a cyberpunk setting. The protagonist, Takeshi Kovacs, is a mercenary born and raised on a distant planet, and trained in an elite military unit called the Envoy Corps.
With the discovery of alien technology, mankind has learned how to store human consciousness in chips implanted at the base of the skull, called stacks. These stacks can be surgically removed, even from dead bodies, and re-implanted in other human bodies (or even artificial bodies).
Human consciousness can also be released into virtual reality simulations, which opens up several terrifying possibilities.
Of course, this means that rich and powerful humans can end up living extremely long lifespans, cloning their bodies and transferring their stacks. The class divide becomes greater than it has ever been.
Without spoiling anything, I’ll only say that the cyberpunk technology and social structures created in this book are well-developed and imaginative. The crime is clever, and the noir private investigation is full of thrills and twists.
If you have watched the Netflix series, I’d like to point out the ways that the book was better, and the elements that the series actually improved upon.
The Book Was Better
In most screen adaptations, I find that the biggest loss is the elimination of characters. Undoubtedly this is because of casting budgets. After all, why hire eight talented actors when you can condense the parts into only three or four characters?
The Netflix series egregiously removes several of the important characters and condenses them all into one female, named Quellcrist Falconer.
In the book, Quellcrist Falconer is a philosopher and a revolutionary, who wrote several volumes of poetry that predicts the future of a society that has conquered death. She also advises revolutionaries about how to resist the inexorable progress into a dystopian, class-divided society.
But there’s another character in the book, nearly as important. Virginia Vidaura is a military trainer for an elite unit called the Envoy Corps, a group of soldiers who are trained to adapt to new bodies and foment insurrection on new worlds.
It makes no sense for these two people to be the same person, yet Netflix decided to cast it that way.
The Series Improved Upon
In the book, the main character (Takeshi Kovacs) stays in a hotel that is operated by an artificial intelligence (AI) named after Jimi Hendrix.
The Netflix series, unable to procure the use of Hendrix’s name or likeness, changed the hotel into a facsimile of Edgar Allen Poe. This was an unequivocal improvement.
Both the character, and the actor who portrays him (Chris Conner), are absolutely fantastic.
The Recommendation - 5/5 Stars
I enjoyed Altered Carbon immensely. The worldbuilding was very detailed—but what really impressed me was how the author understood how technology would impact society.
Add to that the exquisite and thoughtful poetry and philosophy that was created solely for this series, and the reader finds himself fully immersed in an utterly believable future dystopia.
Despite the weaknesses of the Netflix series, I also recommend watching it. They would have done better by keeping the book characters separate and distinct, but they still found some great talent to portray the characters that they kept.
Have you watched Altered Carbon? Or read these books? Let us know what you thought in the comments below, and don’t forget to subscribe to see our upcoming review of the next volume in the series!