Altered Carbon by Richard Morgan

Takeshi Kovacs is ex-Envoy, trained with conditioning that will transfer with regardless of what Sleeve he’s in. After being made an offer of work that he can’t refuse he’s re-sleeved in body that will turn heads while he carries out his investigation: did Laurence Bancroft commit suicide or was he, as he believes, murdered?
altered-carbonOriginally from off-world he is now on Earth, an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar rules and a job that isn’t made any easier by those facts. When he starts digging where the police turned a blind eye he finds things that less than reputable people want left alone. With past acquaintances becoming involved and complications arising because of his sleeve, Kovacs finds trouble at every turn until the truth finally comes to light.

I’ve heard so much about Richard Morgan in the past few years but I’ve never found myself drawn to any of his work. I picked this one up a couple of months ago and kept on wondering whether or not I should try it. I was quite pleased that in won the poll, I doubt I would have got around to it anytime soon otherwise. So after finally reading it was it as good as I had heard? Well, I can certainly see why Morgan’s work is looked upon highly and I’m glad I’ve now been exposed to it, but it wasn’t the amazing read I was expecting.

Altered Carbon is told entirely in the first person, and this can make or break a book in my opinion. If the author hits the right note then it’s a joy to read and can give the events a much more personal feeling. This is what we’ve got here, the perfect balance between story, history and world-building. Following the events through Kovacs’ eyes allows the story to unfold and revelations to come at the right time, never once out of place. I liked Kovacs as a character too, which obviously helps enormously!

The other characters are all well suited and the relationships and motivations of each are well fleshed out. The history that we glimpse during the novel shows us just how multi-layered these characters are, how much development has gone into their history and the connections between them. For a book with a first person perspective I was impressed with the effortless way all of this was conveyed. I was given plenty of time with these characters and, although being Kovacs gives a limited view, Morgan was able to get each of the characters across in an unbiased way.

There also wasn’t as much action in here as I was expecting, although when it kicked in I was very pleased with the flow of the narrative, the descriptiveness and the detail – enough, but not over the top. The same can be said about much of the story, the richness of the world Kovacs finds himself in is always felt underneath the story and situation. The world-building is also very impressive, but Morgan never reveals that much detail about events and history of this future world. I was a little disappointed with this – I love the in-depth construction of a future society – but with sequels already out there for me to pick up I’m hoping more will be revealed through reading them. If not, doesn’t matter, it’s a personal preference that in no way effects the story or the outcome of Altered Carbon.

One of the main technologies in Altered Carbon, sleeving, is a great plot device. Essentially it enables the transference of consciousness from one body to another and can mean immortality for those rich enough to keep their minds backed up regularly and clone bodies available should the worst case scenario happen. As this is what the plot revolves around it is refreshing to see a good look at this process and the effects it has on all the characters.

At the end of the day I went into this book with expectations based on what I’d heard about Richard Morgan and his writing and didn’t quite find what I thought it would be. Is this a bad thing? Not at all, and putting my expectations aside Altered Carbon is a great novel, one that I’m glad I picked up.

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