This was quintessential post-cyberpunk fiction replete with gritty noir, high-tech/low-life, and dystopian elements. Altered Carbon introduces some tantalizing technological concepts that I haven’t encountered in any other work of sci-fi. Namely, the “stack” technology that allows for quasi-immortality among pretty much all humans. It was an interesting way to grapple with the ideas of mind-uploading, body transfer, and interstellar travel. And aside from the stack technology, Altered Carbon plays around with all of those other technological marvels that help drive stories like this. Artificial intelligence, synthetic organisms, virtual reality, augmentations, clones, sprawling cityscapes, future drugs, and fancy weaponry can all be found here.
Philosophically, author Richard K. Morgan does great at exploring issues of identity, religion, and politics within a civilization that has the ability to backup consciousness and essentially live forever. How does this affect relationships? How could this widen the social-inequality gap? What really is the self? What would our relationship be with “real death?” Indeed, it was interesting to witness how our fear of death would increase manifold when so much allows us to prevent it. And conversely, it was thought-provoking to realize that some humans in this fictional world found extended lifespans to be a pain not worth dealing with after experiencing multiple “sleeves” — the name given to human bodies used for hosting consciousness.
While an all-around exhilarating read, I was only actually able to absorb about 70% of the intricacies of this book. The plot evolved into a complex web of details that became increasingly hard to follow. I lost track of several characters and ignored or missed some of the revelations that brought the story neatly together towards the end. Ironically, one of the reasons I decided to tackle this book was to help fill in some of the plot points that I missed while watching the TV adaptation of this book. However, I find myself more-or-less with the same level of understanding of this book as I did after finishing season one of the show. Part of that may be due to the fact that the show does evidently detract from the source material on a few points, naturally.
Overall, this book is true to the post-cyberpunk aesthetic and delivers on all fronts. It definitely deserves multiple read-throughs because of its complex, detective-style content. But with the TV shows justifying the source material sufficiently, I may just read the rest of the books in the series once and stick with the quicker telling of the shows.