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by Richard Morgan
Del Rey, March 2003
384 pages
ISBN: 0345457684

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Cyberpunk is the warped love child of science fiction and the hard-boiled detective novel, combining the futurist visions and techo-fantasies of sci-fi with the gritty, dark and violent rhythms of classic noir fiction. Richard Morgan's first novel, ALTERED CARBON, follows the vapor trail established by William Gibson (read NEUROMANCER if you haven't) in his novels. Readers of cyberpunk and hard-boiled detective novels will probably find this incredibly brutal, sexually explicit and action packed novel a worthwhile read. If William Gibson is the Raymond Chandler of cyberpunk literature, then Richard Morgan is setting himself up as the genre's Mickey Spillane.

ALTERED CARBON is set in the 25th century, when the planet Earth is merely one of a number of colonized worlds. Death has largely lost its sting due to technologies which digitize consciousness and clone, synthesize and bio-engineer the human form. Consciousness is recorded onto something like a hard drive, inserted into the spine and called a cortical stack. Bodies are called sleeves. When the body suffers irreparable organic damage, the cortical stack is merely resleeved, allowing the individual to live again. This form of cheap immortality not only allows humanity to ship themselves about the universe at the speed of light, but provides a great opportunity for violence and bloodshed without much of the attendant guilt.

The protagonist of ALTERED CARBON is Takeshi Kovacs, a former special forces soldier trained in techniques of investigation and killing, whose digitized consciousness is beamed to Earth and sleeved into the body of a former cop to investigate the suicide of a wealthy Meth, short for Methuselah. The suicide was only temporary, of course, because the Meth had his consciousness backed up onto another cortical stack and about twenty extra sleeves float in the cloning vats at a regeneration factory he owns. The Meth believes someone killed him and wants Kovacs to find out who did it, a classic detective-novel device with a twist.

The investigation leads Kovacs through the predictably seedy underbelly of life on Earth, into multiple opportunities to beat, shoot, stab, frag and blast his way through legions of despicable folks, and in true Mike Hammer fashion, to have sex with as many women as he can. The action in this book is fast fast fast and incredibly violent. The sex is mostly just embarrassing. Kovacs is the kind of guy who would find a pothole irresistibly attractive. We've all read leaden sentences like this before: "We made love again, this time more slowly, our bodiesŠ" I for one would vote to expunge all such passages from the English language, particularly when the cliches nauseate rather than titillate.

Such embarrassments don't last for long, not at the fast and frenetic pace of the narrative. The plot twists and turns so frantically it turns to high speed gibberish, and the author would have been well served by an editor demanding he cut one hundred pages from its five hundred page length. Still, this is an exciting book to read, with a compelling view of technology and a great take on the hard-boiled detective hero.

Note: The reviewer is the author of SHOOTING ELVIS and KILLING PAPARAZZI, both available at Amazon or from your favorite independent book dealer.

Reviewed by Robert Eversz, March 2003

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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