Guest post by Adam.
I wanted to let Taryn post a few Summer of Sci-Fi recommendations and really get going so as not to steal her thunder. That’s why we’re two weeks in and only just now getting to my first guest post. It’s certainly not because I spent the early part of the month reading the new Harry Dresden. Honest. (Parkour!)
Before I get into why you should absolutely read this book, I want to take a brief moment to describe my love-hate relationship with the Sci-Fi genre. I think that to truly enjoy Science Fiction, one must have the ability to suspend one’s disbelief. When digging in to a new book, there’s always an analytical part of my brain wanting to dissect it for scientific accuracy. I usually have to get about a tenth of the way into a book before that little voice will subside and let me enjoy myself. Seeing as I waffled back and forth between Biology and Computer Science in college, this was a particularly large issue with this novel. But we’ll get into that later. On to the book!
The general premise behind the world of Altered Carbon is that technology has advanced to a point where the human consciousness can be contained in digital format. As long as a small device at the base of the brain called a “stack” remains intact upon death, that consciousness can be transferred to a new body or “sleeve.” I found this to be a very interesting premise even as my mind hurriedly tried to ruin it with logical thought.
On that note, if anyone is curious, scientists estimate the storage capacity of the human brain at 2.5 petabytes. Additionally, advancements in storage methods make cramming this kind of data into a tiny cortical stack at least theoretically possible sometime in the distant distant future. Of course right now, using the largest hard drive I could find on Amazon, it'd take well over 400 drives to handle that kind of storage. Additionally, based on how quickly the human brain can synthesize data and change itself, storage rates may be even more of a hurdle than sheer storage size. And that doesn’t even begin to unpack my reservations about the kind of black magic pseudo-science that would be involved with a tiny implant being able to map and keep track of every synapse in the human brain.
But I digress.
The story follows a former Envoy named Takeshi Kovacs. Envoys are highly trained operatives who are sleeved into genetically enhanced bodies to wage war and keep the peace across the various human inhabited worlds. Kovacs has obviously picked up his fair share of pessimism and instability and as such has ended up on the wrong side of the law. He finds himself digitally transferred out of his prison sentence on his homeworld and into a sleeve on Earth to act as a gumshoe for a very rich, very powerful, and very old individual named Laurens Bancroft. Bancroft wants Kovacs to investigate a murder. The victim of that murder is none other than Laurens Bancroft himself.
The rich and powerful have gone one step further towards immortality than even a cortical stack can provide and have transmitters that periodically save a digital backup of their stack. It is for this reason that when Bancroft is found with his entire head vaporized, including his stack, it does not mean real death, but instead simply a loss of two days worth of memory.
My favorite part of this novel is the fun that Morgan has with his premise. I found it quite intriguing to think about how the ability to re-sleeve would lower the perceived importance of the physical human body. People acting crazy. Killing each other. Rampant prostitution. Smoking.
Morgan also spends a fair bit of time in contemplation of where one’s true self lies. On multiple occasions in the book, characters come across people they know only to find that the person inside is not the original owner of that body. Conversely, several scenes have friends and family reunited with loved ones in different bodies. The multitude of potential repercussions almost makes me go cross eyed. But in a good way.
While this novel did branch into the mystery genre with Kovacs acting the part of private eye, I did not find this to be the main draw. Yes, the case did add a nice bit of spice to the plot, but it really felt like more of an excuse to get to know this awesome world that Morgan has concocted. And I was ok with that.
Hopefully this first guest post hasn’t lowered the quality of the site too much and won’t result in Taryn revoking my guest post privileges. Assuming she allows it, I’ll be back in a few weeks with my next guest post for The Sirens of Titan.