DCPLive is a blog by library staff at the DeKalb County Public Library!
Jul 6 2012

ShareReads: Altered Carbon

by Jesse M

Every year, I read a lot of books. Most of them are good, some of them are great, and occasionally a book is of such exceptional quality that I recommend it to people who don’t usually read that genre, and gift it for birthdays and holidays because I am so confident the recipient will enjoy it. Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan is one of those books.

Altered Carbon is a novel which straddles the boundary between the Cyberpunk sub-genre of science fiction and the Hardboiled sub-genre of crime fiction. It features one of most compelling anti-heroes in modern literature, Takeshi Kovacs, a former interstellar special forces soldier turned mercenary/criminal who finds himself drafted into the role of private detective by a very wealthy and powerful patron who is in a position to make him an employment offer he cannot refuse. Complicating matters is that Kovacs is a stranger to 25th-century Earth (his consciousness was digitally “needlecast” from his home planet of Harlan’s World to Earth, the only method of faster-than-light interstellar travel available to humanity) and the body he is “re-sleeved” in, that of former policeman Elias Ryker, had complex relationships of his own that Kovacs must navigate in order to succeed in and survive his new assignment.

Altered Carbon is graphic and unflinching in its depictions of sex and violence, but nicely balances these scenes with more contemplative passages that add depth and flavor to the characters and setting. The quality and complexity of the work earned the novel the Philip K. Dick Award for Best Novel in 2003. Film rights for the book and its sequels have also been optioned and Laeta Kalogridis, who penned Shutter Island and executive produced Avatar, will adapt the novel along with David Goodman.

Fans of Morgan’s work can find more at the library, including the two sequels featuring Takeshi Kovacs, Broken Angels and Woken Furies. Readers interested in pursuing more novels in the Cyberpunk or Hardboiled genres should check out William Gibson’s Neuromancer (the first book in his seminal Sprawl Trilogy) and The Raymond Chandler omnibus respectively; both Gibson and Chandler are considered among the premier writers of their genres.

While Altered Carbon has a lot to recommend it, for me the key element was the character of Takeshi Kovacs. His story and personality were so powerful and gripping I was unable to put Altered Carbon or its sequels down. Who are some of your favorite “anti-heroes” in literature, and what makes them so compelling?

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Jacqueline K July 6, 2012 at 9:06 PM

I spent a few weeks reading and listening to books that I have seen over the years. I was curious about Ayn Rand’s Anthem after reading a scholarship offering based on the book. I followed the twists and turns of the affairs of two sisters in Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen. I also have enjoyed some picture books (and always will). After reading A Name on the Quilt: a Story of Remembrance by Jeannine Atkins, I would love to view the NAMES Project quilt panels. 8,800 quilt panels will be displayed at the National Mall in Washington, DC from July 21-25. More information about the quilt panel display is located at http://quilt2012.org.

Leigh P. July 6, 2012 at 9:37 PM

By far my favorite anti-hero is Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights. I still can’t decide if I love or hate him after all these years. What makes him compelling is pure, unfiltered passion. It’s not the intense/angsty/oh-so-hard-to-control “passion” of Twilight’s Edward. Instead, it’s a gritty, primal, scream from deep within his body shouting, “I love you and you’ll be mine, Catherine!” That sounds kind of psycho reading it, actually. But when you understand him as a character you understand why the passion and love are in his bones, his hair, his fingers. He far from saves the day in that book but he’s my little anti-hero and I’m sticking with him.

Ardene July 13, 2012 at 12:17 PM

I was fascinated years ago by Thomas Covenant, anti-hero of Stephen Donaldson’s fantasy. I hated him ad sympathized with him at the same time, and I loved the Land.

SarahT July 21, 2012 at 3:17 PM

Henry “Hank” Thompson, the protagonist of a dark crime trilogy by Charlie Huston that opens with “Caught Stealing,” is a great anti-hero. He starts out as an average nobody (albeit a deeply alcoholic one), but a chance encounter leads him astray into a netherworld he never made. Things only go in one direction for Hank: from bad to worse. At first, he’s a victim, at the mercy of forces beyond his control. After a certain point of no return, though, his choices and his actions put him firmly into the anti-hero camp. You can’t help but root for the guy, no matter how far he keeps spiraling into the darkness. Books 2 and 3 are “Six Bad Things” and “A Dangerous Man,” respectively.

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