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?