Recommended Reading for Gamers: Altered Carbon

By SarcasmancerSarcasmancer


Fans of military intrigue, hardboiled detective stories and Sci-fi will be hard pressed to find a better read than Richard K Morgan's Altered Carbon. I realize there are plenty of books which fit that bill, but the unique technological twist of Morgan's world is really what recommends his book to gamers. The story is set in a psuedo-dystopian future where death is a thing of the past. Peoples memories and consciences can be completely digitized and downloaded into different bodies. If you've ever wondered what it would be like to have extra lives in real life, this book is for you.

Those who warily regard printed fiction as stale and static will be pleasantly surprised by the sheer amount of action in Carbon; I got more shoot-outs, fisticuffs, car chases, explosions and gratuitous sex-scenes in this read than any of the big-budget blockbusters I saw this summer, and I made a point to catch as many as possible. Admittedly, the same could be said of most Warhammer novels, but Morgan presents his violence in a way that punctures the shell of modern desensitization. His prose make you think about the skin you are in and how it governs your life in the world around you.

Indeed, the most interesting thing about Altered Carbon is it's ability to reassert the importance of flesh and blood in our increasingly digitized world. Parallels can be drawn between the way videogamers discuss different control schemes and the concepts of getting used to a new body, (or "Sleeve" as they are referred to in Morgan's world). The concept of artificial bodies featuring various enhancements (such as Neurachem and internalized Heads Up Displays) is also addressed. Virtual reality is prominently addressed in the novel as well, (albeit portmanteau'd to "virtuality") and it touches on the concept of ratio time; 2 minutes in real time can be 2 hours in a simulation, since you are only limited to the speed of electric synapses. All in all, the book raises lots of questions concerning what it means to be human.

This theme of existential introspection is further developed- dare I say- fleshed out, (titter titter) by the musings of Takeshi Kovacs; de-facto detective, ex-envoy, and certified bad-ass. At times his character feels a little inconsistent, but its hardly surprising considering how many different Sleeves he shuffles through during the course of his adventure. Kovac's existential examinations never struck me as melodramatic, so you don't have to worry about any "dear diary" stuff. Some quotes from the oft-referenced Quillian philosophy are a bit Allan Moorish (heavy handed and adolescent), but just as many are quotable. In general, the dialogue is delivered with the dry-wit and "don't fuck with me" attitude that have come to define the modern hardboiled detective story dovetailing nicely with the violent feel of the world.

Altered Carbon is the first book in a trilogy focused on Kovacs and it left me hungering for the sequel, Broken Angels. If you are a serious fan of sci-fi, I really can't recommend it strongly enough. So 'book it" to your nearest bookseller and buy it now. It is easily the most intriguing read I've encountered since William K. Gibson's Neuromancer. And if you are not familiar with Neuromancer… well. That oversight will be addressed soon enough.

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