“Altered Carbon” Considers What it Means to be Human (Book Club Pick)

Here at Pressboard, we believe in few things more than the power of a great story. Stories inspire us, galvanize us and move us to tears. They change the way that we view a particular issue or society as a whole. But most importantly, they bring us together.

This passion for storytelling is what originally inspired us to design a platform that allows brands and publishers to connect and craft outstanding content together; now, it’s the driving force behind our book club, which delivers our favourite reads — fiction, non-fiction and everything in between — to your inbox every month. Here’s our pick for March 2019: Richard Morgan’s Altered Carbon.

Richard Morgan explores the human condition in his sci-fi thriller, Altered Carbon.

Altered Carbon is a story set in a dystopian future that follows Takeshi Kovacs, a skilled combat fighter, who’s hired to investigate the mysterious death of one of the world’s richest men. The plot revolves around the concept of ‘sleeving’, where a person’s consciousness can be uploaded into multiple bodies — granted they have the funds to do so. In this world, the elite and powerful live forever and the poor will kill just to have a chance at eternal life.

You’ve likely seen or heard of the Netflix adaptation, which generated a lot of buzz last year. I actually read Morgan’s original book years ago, but the excitement around the show (which is also an excellent watch) urged me to give it a second read. It was even better this time around.

My well-loved copy of Altered Carbon. AISLEY KOMATSU

While the Netflix version has some nice additions to the storyline (I prefer Poe over Hendrix), I felt that focusing the plot on rebellion diluted the deeper themes of Morgan’s story. Sure, turning Kovacs into a super-skilled rebel who tries to overthrow the system makes for some great TV drama; but in the novel, he’s essentially just a regular guy who more accurately parallels the complexities in our own society.

Morgan illustrates the injustice of the world when Kovacs is captured and tortured. This anger is a theme throughout the book and is echoed in the characters, too. One of the most memorable quotes in the book is, “If they asked how I died tell them: Still angry.”

Full of violence and gore, the book has some scenes so graphic I could barely finish them. Despite that, Morgan manages to keep readers’ attention with action and romantic subplots. Even though Kovacs is painted as a rough anti-hero who cares about nobody but himself, I was rooting for him to find love.

The novel was clearly inspired by the likes of Bladerunner and other sci-fi classics, but also feels like it draws more heavily from the real-world issues we face today. Behind the psychedelics and danger, Altered Carbon is an observation of life, love and humanity.

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