Altered Carbon by Richard Morgan
This is possibly the best pure Science Fiction book I’ve read in a long time. One of my big frustrations at U.S. bookstores right now is the massive preponderance of The Lord of the Rings clones. And if I can avoid those, I’m looking at Harry Potter clones. So, when I had the chance to go to a bookstore in London, I found Altered Carbon a welcome relief.
Richard Morgan’s first novel, and in some ways, it is apparent, but the pace is so quick and the ideas so fascinating, it really doesn’t matter. What’s neat about this book is the basic idea. Everyone in the world (we assume) is equipped at birth with a “cortical stack”. This stack sits at the base of your neck and records your life. Then, if you have the money, or a good insurance policy you can be brought back to life in another body (either a clone of your own or another).
But Morgan doesn’t stop there. He takes this basic idea and proposes what a society that, in essence, can’t die, might be like. He investigates criminal law and policing as well as military and wealth issues. The main character is a man who was originally something of a punk kid and is hired by the military. There he becomes a member of an elite force who is specially trained to be able to change bodies and still remain effective. But he has a change of heart, and quits. And finds that the only skill he really has is as a mercenary.
When he ends up on the wrong side in a fight, he is killed and stored until a fabulously wealthy man ships his stack to Earth and blackmails him into helping him solve a mystery. The mystery isn’t that interesting, but the twists and turns that Morgan takes you through to learn more about this future Earth and how it has adapted to eternal life (for some) is great. I don’t think I put the book down for more than 5 minutes until I was finished.
This is Science Fiction the way I always wanted it to be. Fast, fun, and full of new and mind-bending ideas. Once the obsession with fantasy is over, I hope that SciFi authors will come back to their roots of hard science fiction. But even if they’re slow, at least there is Richard Morgan out there giving me hope.