Sunday, July 9, 2006

Altered Carbon, Richard Morgan

Title: Altered Carbon
Author: Richard Morgan
Rating: Good

Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan was reviewed by someone on Doug's web site earlier and sounded interesting. I've long had a fondness for cyber punk, and while I don't generally read detective novels, it's not for disinterest. It's just that I read other things and rarely get around to reading detective novels as a result.

The capsule review of Altered Carbon is "good". There are a few places where the violence and sex head toward the gratuitous, but they do serve the story line even then. The writing is rapidly paced and the descriptions are nearly always vivid enough to let me picture things clearly in my head. There were one or two places where I thought an editor should have cleaned up the prose a bit as I got lost, had to reread a paragraph or two, and still didn't grok a sentence or an event. But those were rare, and the plot is the important thing in a novel like this.

The story is essentially a murder mystery set a few hundred years into the future. One of the most interesting projections (in terms of technology) in this book is a digital interface to the human brain that is implanted at birth. When you die (and at other times in certain cases) the data from that interface (called a stack) can be uploaded into a computer and downloaded into another stack in another body. This allows you to live for prolonged periods, if you have the money to keep buying bodies in which to live. In addition, virtual environments can be run (and maintained) for those not currently "sleeved" in a body, again provided you have the money to make that happen. There are all kinds of interesting societal implications to these technologies that Morgan explores in some depth.

The hero - Takeshi Kovacs - is an interesting, if violent, individual. There is a lot of back story behind him, and it basically holds together, though his training seems a bit over the top on occasion. If I have a gripe about the hero, though, it is that his motives can be unclear and shift around from time to time in ways that I don't quite get. He can be violent in the extreme, and yet has a soft heart at other times that seems out of sync with the violent side. This isn't a huge distraction, but it is something I noted once or twice.

I don't want to give away the plot, so I'll end here. Read if it you find cyber punk an interesting genre. It's fun, fast, and generally furious. I'll be acquiring the second Takeshi Kovacs novel - Broken Angels when I can.