Book Review: Altered Carbon

Amazon’s been telling me I need to read this book by Richard Morgan since it came out, and a few weeks ago I managed to hack down the stack to it.

There are two things I think are structurally interesting about this book. First, it’s a wonderful example of setting economy. There’s a single central piece of technology around which the setting revolves — the capacity to upload and download consciousness in and out of different bodies — and most of the book’s world proceeds from the ramifications of that technology.

The other intriguing bit is that I think Altered Carbon is an excellent instance of the decline of prognosticatory science fiction. There was a time when most science fiction could at least be construed as an attempt to predict a possible future. More and more, however, science fiction is allegorical rather than realistic. Altered Carbon, despite being set centuries into the future, has the feel of a noir detective story plus the aforementioned braintaping tech and more sophisticated weaponry. It’s a great story, and a fascinating meditation on a whole slew of social and ethical issues, but it’s not a plausible vision of the future.

Originally published on LiveJournal