Since Altered Carbon has recently been made into a TV series, I feel I must specify that this review is on the BOOK. I have not yet seen the show, though I am curious to see how they handled it.
At its core, Altered Carbon is a hard-boiled detective story in a beautifully realized sci-fi setting. Beyond that, it deals with many philosophical questions like the effects of immortality on beings who were never meant to live so long, the moral implications of trading bodies, and the endless arguments about the existence and treatment of a soul. It shares many similar traits with Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi, Neuromancer by William Gibson, and of course Blade Runner a.k.a. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick, and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoyed those books.
Like many hard sci-fi novels, Altered Carbon dumps you in an alien ocean with a half-inflated lifevest. Every detail is a breath of air that staves off drowning until you find an equalibrium in your new environment. Morgan’s scene-crafting was top notch, giving just the details needed to keep the reader afloat, sprinkled with tantalizing snippets that hinted at a much larger, richer world beyond.
Takeshi Kovacs, the protagonist and narrator of the story, was well-depicted, with a clear voice and personality that came through strong right from the get go. The most important secondary characters where convincingly unique, but many of the tertiaries blended together for me.
The plot moved at a decent clip, and the twists where enough to keep me fully engaged. Without giving anything away, I can only say that Morgan kept his options open so it was difficult to predict a specific outcome. There were many places where things could easily have gone another way, and that uncertainty kept things interesting.
Note: This book definitely gets an R rating for sex, violence, and various acts of depravity.