Altered Carbon by Richard Morgan

May 1, 2004 at 12:00 am | Posted in 3 stars, Book Reviews, Science Fiction | Leave a comment

Altered Carbon is an SF detective novel, a somewhat neglected subgenre. Unlike many previous attempts, such as Brin’s Kiln People and Adams’ Dirk Gently books, this takes SF noir and plays it straight. It’s sufficiently noir that it really has lot more in common with Neuromancer than with Caves of Steel. Fortunately it comes off well. It also passes the second test, in that it isn’t just a normal detective novel with spaceships instead of cars. As the main character explores the seedy underworld in search for clues, the author explores the effects of personality backups, virtual reality prisons, and vat-grown spare bodies. This might also sound a little like Kiln People but where Brin made duplication technology ubiquitous but impermanent, Roberts makes his expensive but long-lasting…the latter meaning both the bodies and the storage of personality. The ramifications of the technology are well-drawn, but I found the characters and plot only moderately engaging. Important elements of the main character’s past are left more or less unexplained. While that leaves it open for sequels (and indeed there has since been a sequel) it left me without much in the way of a connection to the cypher of a main character. Still it’s a good read, stays consistent straight through to the end, and I recommended it.

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