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  1. #1
    Seeker of Stuff Moderator Kamakhya's Avatar
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    March BOTM: Altered Carbon by Richard Morgan

    It's that time again to discuss this month's choice.

    What did y'all think of Altered Carbon?

  2. #2
    High Priest of Cainism Shehzad's Avatar
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    About half way through: liking it so far.

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    BookWyrm Archren's Avatar
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    I have to say, I really enjoyed it. I wasn't sure I would, since cyperpunk isn't usually my thing. However, the SF/detective novel really works for me. Surprising, considering that I don't tend to like non-SF detective novels.

    Did you guys think that the portrayals of the meths (Methusulas or long-lived humans) was accurate/well done? They seemed slightly stereotypical or 2-D to me. However, that makes sense since the emphasis is really on the characters closest to the protagonist, and they are all really well drawn.

  4. #4
    Give me liberty! Ouroboros's Avatar
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    "Altered Carbon" was a revelation to me when I read it, it truly blew me away. I bought it grudgingly in an airport shop, and devoured a big chunk of it on a nine hour plane trip to Tokyo.

    I'd resisted buying it for months. A positive SFX review aroused my interest, and the massive movie deal that was snapped up straight away ... but glancing at the blurb I was put off by what appeared to be just another vaguely noir cyberpunk tale of double-crosses and rainy future cities.

    And of course, "Altered Carbon" is essentially that: a fusion of noir and cyberpunk sensibilities with smatterings of visceral sex and violence.

    The difference is that Morgan has serious talent and this novel is as taut and edgy as a night speedballing .

    ---

    "Broken Angels" is a worthy sequel, more of a trek into military SF, though.

  5. #5
    Hip, cool, jiggy wit' it emohawk's Avatar
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    I too enjoyed Altered Carbon, but I don't think I'm as excited about it as the others so far. Like Archen, cyberpunk isn't really my thing, but I did like this quite a lot. My biggest beef with it though which probably tarnished my overall impression was that I thought it was too long. About 2/3 of the way through I was ready for it to wind up but it just kept going - by 3/4 I just wanted it to be over. This was quite a novel (no pun intented) experience for a book that I was enjoying, usually I devour it and want more.

    I think part of it was due to the heavy amounts of violence. While I didn't have a problem with the violence itself, it just got to the point where he seemed to be adding violent scenes in an attempt to make it more interesting, but without adding anything much to the plot. Hopefully as he develops as a writer he'll learn that you can have great action without constant violence, and you don't necessarily need constant action to make something interesting. It just got to a point of overload to me. I'm willing to conceed however that this may just be a personal thing and if the majority likes his style then he should keep it up.

    My other minor disappointment with it was that I didn't feel like there was anything new to it. He's essentially collected a lot if tried and true SF elements and melded them to build his world and story. While there's nothing wrong with this, don't get me wrong, I just felt a little like these things had often been handled better before and the total was possibly less than the sum of it's parts.

    Having said that though, what it boils down to is:
    Did I enjoy it? Yes.
    Will I read more of the author? Sure.
    Will I read the sequel, Broken Angels? I have to admit it didn't make me want to rush out and read it immediately, but I'd probably give it a go if the opportunity presented itself.
    Will I recommend it? To some people, but it's not on the top of my list.

  6. #6
    Anitaverse Refugee FicusFan's Avatar
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    I read Altered Carbon and thought it was ok for most of the novel. I did end up liking it more by the end of the book. The problem I had was that through most of it I really didn't care about any of the characters. I thought they were flat and very cliched. Either what he did with his ending, or the fact that I had spent more time with them, helped, because I did care about what happened to them at the end.

    I have read some cyberpunk, and like bits and pieces of it, but am not a hardcore fan.

    My overall impression was one of been there done that. I kept thinking back to the movie Bladerunner, and the book felt like it moved that body of work forward a bit, but didn't really do anything new or groundbreaking. ( I should say that I could only endure the movie The Matrix for about a half an hour before I left, so it maybe a more modern comparison, but I haven't seen it)

    I kept thinking that the whole thing was sort of pollinating itself. PKD wrote Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, which I thought was barely an outline (I am not a PKD fan). I thought it was one of the worst of his books that I have read. But Ridley Scott used it to make Bladerunner which melds noir and the future and has some stunning visuals, and with Altered Carbon Richard Morgan seems to be taking the meat of the film and making a book that tries to capture on the page what you saw on the screen. I thought there were some breathtaking visuals that Morgan wrote into his book.

    But I kept thinking of other works that touch on the same themes and use the same settings: Noir by KW Jeter, even parts of Matthew Woodring Stover's Tyshall series (when on the 'real world'). Even David Brin did the disposable body thing with Kiln People. So it was almost a nostalgia trip when reading, to see if you could find the other connections and memories of earlier works.

    I did find one rather large flaw in Morgan's world, and oddly enough he brought it out as a minor plot point.

    If you have people, even if only the fringes (the criminals on the low end, and the rich on the high end, and the spooks and corporate/government types in the middle) zipping around in different bodies - some that are new, but identical to the last one, some that are 'used' and some that are fake: what is the nature of Identity in such a world ? What makes you, you: is it the meat, is it the serial number on the stack, is it the brain scan pattern on the disk.. is it some combination of all of the above ? We saw the rich, the corporate, and the law, all who run on rules and contracts, and not one of them said anthing about identity.

    It bothered me when the criminals saw Ryker and even though they knew he was on the stack as a crooked cop, they assumed it was him, and never thought it could be someone else like Takeshi. In fact none of the people in the story made any effort to find out who was inhabiting the meat that showed up in their space. Everyone just assumed the outer cover was all that was needed to determine who you were talking to. Even when Takeshi had been away from them in that dangerous world, they all took him at face value when he came back. I found that unbelievable in such a culture, especially given the paranoia and privacy requirements of the people involved. They even used DNA coded bank access - what would be the point, and who would be kept out or let in ?

    I thought the alien aspect was interesting but was a bit ambivalent abut using Mars. I got the sense he was reaching back to the whole 'canals on Mars' type of era, but since science has moved ahead and we know that, unless it is burried very deep, there is no alien culture on Mars it bothered me that he was building a SF series on a known untruth. I did like the Songspire idea.

    I am about 20 pages from the end of Broken Angels, the sequel. I have an ARC so I read it, but I am not sure I would have bought it, or will buy any future sequels. Yet I like the second book more, and he gets better in terms of his skill at writing. But it is also using more strongly the strategy of, shall we be kind and say, recycling of past works.

    Because of something that Morgan does not carry through from book one to book two, I am also again, less moved by the main character.

  7. #7
    Give me liberty! Ouroboros's Avatar
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    If you have people, even if only the fringes (the criminals on the low end, and the rich on the high end, and the spooks and corporate/government types in the middle) zipping around in different bodies - some that are new, but identical to the last one, some that are 'used' and some that are fake: what is the nature of Identity in such a world ? What makes you, you: is it the meat, is it the serial number on the stack, is it the brain scan pattern on the disk.. is it some combination of all of the above ? We saw the rich, the corporate, and the law, all who run on rules and contracts, and not one of them said anthing about identity.
    I'm not sure I'm understanding you, but I would argue that indentity was an underlying theme of Morgan's whole premise, and didn't need to be explicitly spelled out and discussed. In a body-swapping future where the long dead can come back in someone elses skin, then patently its a fundamental issue.

    Given that bodies are patently disposable / replaceable in "Altered Carbon", then we are left with the 'stack' and then the digitisable soul/personality. The stack is never really referred to beyond being a bone-encased receptacle for the latter, so I thought it was clear throughout that its what is digitised and transferred that can be meaningfully called ''identity''...

    In the case of Kovac : his envoy training, his memories, his urge for a cigarette and so on, so forth. What biological influence a host body has (for example, Ryker's body is chemically attracted to the police woman) Kovac is able to filter out and recognise as foreign, at least initially.
    Last edited by Ouroboros; March 4th, 2004 at 07:52 AM.

  8. #8
    Registered User lemming's Avatar
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    I finally finished reading the book. Getting through it--or at least getting to the point where I actually cared what the hell happened--was mostly an exercise in brute force, which is pretty appropriate in retrospect. Yay for force, torture and cyber-macho synthetic testosterone.

    Because I'm not particularly drawn to the whole "violent detective" genre, it took me ages to get into Altered Carbon. However, there were some nicely crafted sentences all the way through that helped me keep going, and also there was the obvious puzzle-like nature of the book--I knew everything would eventually fall into place and that almost everything that came up would matter. For example, when I first saw the Asian body with the Khumalo neuratech in the Panama Rose, I was sure Kovecs would end up fighting in that body and in that place (true, I thought those two things would be simultaneous, and I was wrong on that, but still...). I also thought the author did an incredibly good job of acknowledging the tension/interaction between the Kovacs personality and the Ryker body, especially when in the other body his chemistry with Ortega is suddenly gone.

    He also had some great throw-away ideas: since nobody has mentioned Understanding Day yet, I will. I *loved* that. I loved it even more that he left it as a throwaway rather than forcing himself to explain it more deeply, which probably would have messed it up. Oh, and the Martian business didn't bother me... that's a classic, and we're just now finding how much water there used to be on Mars.

    As others have pointed out, there are not many new ideas here--but the writing and plotting is tight (even the fights weren't too boring for me, which takes quite a fight-writer), and the words "Envoy" and "sleeving" will probably stay in my mind for quite a while. I don't see myself reading the sequel soon, and in fact was disappointed to hear the author was "working on another Takeshi Kovacs novel" since I was hoping he'd move on and have other new ideas. But, you know. Decent book. 6 out of 10, and I would have ranked it much higher if the same writing style had been applied to a different (sub)genre.

    For whoever asked: the only thing I find surprising about the Meths is that they even cared about sex anymore. I'd be more likely to believe that after the first century or two they'd get bored and put themselves in bodies that didn't have the distraction, at least most of the time.

    lemming

    P.S. Did anyone catch what, exactly, happened between Miriam Bancroft and the Kovacs in the Khumalo body to make him ask the other Kovacs to do that favor for her at the end?

  9. #9
    Lemurs!!! Moderator Erfael's Avatar
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    To preface: I haven't read but one or two cyberpunk novels. I haven't read but one or two detective novels (especially "hard-boiled," as this seems to be touted).

    Maybe it's due to those two things, but I really quite enjoyed Altered Carbon. Granted, many of the ideas were pretty stock, I thought that the ride was pretty fun, which was about all I would expect out of a detective novel like this. I feel like it's more about the mystery and discovery than it is about the characters. And wondering what was going to come to light in future chapters was what kept me going. I never even realized that I had next to no interest in any of the characters as characters.

    I also have to say that I was expecting much more violence and gore from this one. Given what some people on the forum have been saying over past months, I was thinking something along the lines of Caine, but perhaps even more. Even after reading the whole book, I don't feel that it was on the whole especially violent. Perhaps it is because Takeshi as the POV character never really took great pleasure from going into detail about what was happening. As one with Envoy training, each kill was merely business. I kept waiting for all this violence and unrelenting action that seemed to be the main buzz about this book to start. I really liked the balance that Morgan came up with between plot and action.

    Another thing that I thought about this book (especially in comparison to the other book of the month in fantasy) was that Morgan seemed to really exhibit an economy of words and plot. It felt to me like every single chapter or scene was there for a reason, which to me always makes a book jump up several notches in likability. In very few books do I get the feeling that everything that happens will ultimately have something to do with the buildup and resolution. (Much like lemming mentioned just knowing that the ninja sleeve would make an appearance somehow, or how I just knew that the Catholics from the rally at the beginning would somehow play a role in the final outcome)

    I also thought that identity was dealt with fairly well in this book. I'm usually a little dim when it comes to picking out themes and such unless the author hits me over the head with them, but in this case I had plenty to think about in regards to identity and what physical, neurological, spiritual, and pure data aspects go into making up a personality and a biological person. I especially liked the night that Takeshi spent with Takeshi talking about what could ultimately make them different people.

  10. #10
    Hip, cool, jiggy wit' it emohawk's Avatar
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    Originally posted by FicusFan
    It bothered me when the criminals saw Ryker and even though they knew he was on the stack as a crooked cop, they assumed it was him, and never thought it could be someone else like Takeshi. In fact none of the people in the story made any effort to find out who was inhabiting the meat that showed up in their space. Everyone just assumed the outer cover was all that was needed to determine who you were talking to. Even when Takeshi had been away from them in that dangerous world, they all took him at face value when he came back. I found that unbelievable in such a culture, especially given the paranoia and privacy requirements of the people involved. They even used DNA coded bank access - what would be the point, and who would be kept out or let in ?
    That was my other problem with the book, thanks for reminding me! Since identity is such a major issue in western cultures, and it is basically the premise of the whole novel, he did brush over the whole issue too lightly for me, probably because he couldn't believably nut out the issue well enough (I'm not sure anyone could). I was able to suspend disbelief enough to give the idea the benefit of the doubt, but maybe thats why he made the POV character of asian decent, because they traditionally have less obsession with individual identity?

  11. #11
    Hip, cool, jiggy wit' it emohawk's Avatar
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    Originally posted by lemming
    P.S. Did anyone catch what, exactly, happened between Miriam Bancroft and the Kovacs in the Khumalo body to make him ask the other Kovacs to do that favor for her at the end?
    Nope, I was left wondering about that too, but I suspect it involved Barry White music in the background. Maybe it's mentioned in Broken Angels. Fiscus?

  12. #12
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    Nope, not mentioned in 'Broken Angels'.

    Recently, I've read 'Altered Carbon', 'Kiln People' (David Brin) and 'The Mocking Program' (Alan Dean Foster) so it seems to be that there is a trend in futuristic noir.

    While I liked 'Altered Carbon' well enough, it wouldn't make my favourites list. All the elements are there, and Morgan tells a good story. Yes, the characters are hard to identify with but I think that's in character. Kovacs is someone used to getting re-sleeved, used to being a chameleon, used to playing different characters. I guess, that doesn't leave much of a 'baseline' character. That said, I did warm to him as the story went on.

    I thought the writing was good, though sometimes, Morgan seemed to me to be overly clever with his sentence constructions at times. I'm glad I read it but I wouldn't rave about it.


    Ficusfan,
    For a better exploration of identity, I'd go back to an earlier BOTM, 'The Golden Age' (John C. Wright) or even 'Metaplanetary' (Tony Daniel).

  13. #13
    Anitaverse Refugee FicusFan's Avatar
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    Originally posted by Soon Lee
    Nope, not mentioned in 'Broken Angels'.


    Ficusfan,
    For a better exploration of identity, I'd go back to an earlier BOTM, 'The Golden Age' (John C. Wright) or even 'Metaplanetary' (Tony Daniel).
    I think there has been a misunderstanding, I am not saying the author didn't explore the idea of I dentity well enough (I was not really looking for a lot of depth from this book), I am saying in his world building he didn't address it at all.

    What is a contract unless you define the parties involved, how do you do that when bodies are disposable. You have to set some standard and use some technology to see if the standard is met -- that was completely missing from the book.

    Bancroft and his wife lived rich highpowered lives that were often separate, yet not once did we see that either thought: is that really the same person inside, as outside, the same person who was there yesterday. Sure with enough time you 'know' who you are dealing with, but those first minutes, and when something
    new happens - who knows who is inside. Neither the police nor that Bancrofts thought it was a possiblity that Bancroft was not Bancroft when he died. If they are cloning people so easily what happens when you lose some hair, or throw out a used kleenix.

    In that future kidnapping may not be stealing the person it maybe replacing them in their own meat. My problem was that Morgan had not thought out how those major changes in identity would filter through the everyday parts of society and impact them. We were left with everyone thinking and acting as if they were from our world rather than a world where all those options were possible.

    Even somthing that didn't work, but that would have been used to soothe the fears of the masses would have been appreciated. Somthing like head bumps, or size or any of the other oddities we have used in our past when trying to determine who we are dealing with.

  14. #14
    Hip, cool, jiggy wit' it emohawk's Avatar
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    Reminds me of a short story by John Varley called The Barbie Murders which is basically about a detective that has to solve a murder in a colony of identical looking generic clone-types with no sense of identity. The first problem the detective faces is trying to find an individual in a place where people have no real outward identification.

    Good story, won a couple of awards too if I recall correctly.

  15. #15
    Registered User lemming's Avatar
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    We were left with everyone thinking and acting as if they were from our world rather than a world where all those options were possible.
    Yeah, I noticed this as well. While reading, I was rationalizing this (and the DNA-coded bank accounts) away by remembering that even in the book, resleeving and such things are fairly rare. It's mostly done by the very wealthy and the criminal element, and we spent the book immersed in those very special aspects of the society. It still seemed that the vast majority of people would still go through their lives without a single resleeving.

    Erfael... I read your paragraph on how you didn't find the book to be especially violent, and didn't find the action to be especially nonstop, several times over to be sure I read it right. Wow. If this one didn't make the cut, I don't think I would make it through a book that you would assign those attributes to. I'd get too tired on behalf of the main character and fall sound asleep.

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