||A review by Donna McMahon
The London Times described Altered Carbon as a "seamless marriage of hardcore cyberpunk and hard-boiled detective
tale," and I can't improve on that except perhaps to mention overtones of galactic space opera.
Copyright © 2003 Donna McMahon
It's far future Earth, and mercenary Takeshi Kovacs is waking up in another unfamiliar body.
"Nearly two decades I've been doing this and it still jars me to look into the glass and see a total stranger staring
back. It's like pulling an image out of the depths of an autostereogram. For the first couple of moments all you can see
is someone else looking at you through a window frame. Then, like a shift in focus, you feel yourself float rapidly up behind
the mask and adhere to its inside with a shock that's almost tactile. It's as if someone's cut an umbilical cord, only
instead of separating the two of you, it's the otherness that has been severed and now you're just looking at your reflection
in a mirror."
Kovacs has been revived to investigate the murder of Laurens Bancroft, a man centuries old and immeasurably wealthy. Bancroft
is alive and healthy in a backup copy of himself, but he wants to know who managed to kill him and how. And if Kovacs succeeds,
he will earn freedom, money and release on his home world.
" 'You're a lucky man, Kovacs.' Sure. A hundred and eighty light years from home, wearing another man's body on a six week
rental agreement. Freighted in to do a job that the local police wouldn't touch with a riot prod. Fail and go back into
storage. I felt so lucky I could have burst into song as I walked out the door."
After the graphically violent prologue of this book, I didn't expect to finish more than a few pages, but I soon found
myself intrigued by the setting and gripped by Kovacs' dilemma. This is not usually my kind of book -- extreme violence and
tough, wise-cracking detectives don't turn my crank. But Richard Morgan kept me reading. Some of the draw was sheer
momentum -- the plot is complex, with much action and many marvelous twists -- but the real strength of Altered Carbon
lies in the complex and subtle characterization, which takes Kovacs far beyond hard-boiled stereotypes. And there is utter
fascination in the relationship between Kovacs and police Lieutenant Kristin Ortega, partner and lover of the man whose body
Kovacs is wearing.
The background is terrific, too. Morgan paints it in as he goes, avoiding excessive chunks of exposition while still
managing reveal a richly detailed society, technology and history.
I didn't only read Altered Carbon, I went back and immediately re-read it. Expect to see this book win all kinds of awards.
Donna McMahon discovered science fiction in high school and fandom in
1977, and never recovered. Dance of Knives, her first novel, was published by Tor in May,
2001, and her book reviews won an Aurora Award the
same month. She likes to review books first as a reader (Was this a
Good Read? Did I get my money's worth?) and second as a writer (What
makes this book succeed/fail as a genre novel?). You can visit her
website at http://www.donna-mcmahon.com/.