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6 Beaverton Science Fiction and Fantasy- A to Z

Altered Carbon


Altered Carbon Cover

ISBN13: 9780345457684
ISBN10: 0345457684
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Two hours before dawn I sat in the peeling kitchen and smoked one of Sarah's cigarettes, listening to the maelstrom and waiting. Millsport had long since put itself to bed, but out in the Reach currents were still snagging on the shoals, and the sound came ashore to prowl the empty streets. There was a fine mist drifting in from the whirlpool, falling on the city like sheets of muslin and fogging the kitchen windows.

Chemically alert, I inventoried the hardware on the scarred wooden table

for the fiftieth time that night. Sarah's Heckler and Koch shard pistol

glinted dully at me in the low light, the butt gaping open for its clip.

It was an assassin's weapon, compact and utterly silent. The magazines

lay next to it. She had wrapped insulating tape around each one to

distinguish the ammunition: green for sleep, black for the spider-venom

load. Most of the clips were black-wrapped. Sarah had used up a lot of

green on the security guards at Gemini Biosys last night.

My own contributions were less subtle: the big silver Smith & Wesson,

and the four remaining hallucinogen grenades. The thin crimson line

around each canister seemed to sparkle slightly, as if it was about to

detach itself from the metal casing and float up to join the curlicues

of smoke ribboning off my cigarette. Shift and slide of altered

significants, the side effect of the tetrameth I'd scored that afternoon

down at the wharf. I don't usually smoke when I'm straight, but for some

reason the tet always triggers the urge.

Against the distant roar of the maelstrom I heard it. The hurrying strop

of rotor blades on the fabric of the night.

I stubbed out the cigarette, mildly unimpressed with myself, and went

through to the bedroom. Sarah was sleeping, an assembly of low-frequency

sine curves beneath the single sheet. A raven sweep of hair covered her

face and one long-fingered hand trailed over the side of the bed. As I

stood looking at her the night outside split. One of Harlan's World's

orbital guardians test-firing into the Reach. Thunder from the concussed

sky rolled in to rattle the windows. The woman in the bed stirred and

swept the hair out of her eyes. The liquid crystal gaze found me and

locked on.

"What're you looking at?" Voice husky with the residue of sleep. I

smiled a little.

"Don't give me that shit. Tell me what you're looking at."

"Just looking. It's time to go."

She lifted her head and picked up the sound of the helicopter. The sleep

slid away from her face, and she sat up in bed.

"Where's the 'ware?"

It was a corps joke. I smiled the way you do when you see an old friend

and pointed to the case in the corner of the room.

"Get my gun for me."

"Yes, ma'am. Black or green?"

"Black. I trust these scumbags about as far as a clingfilm condom." In

the kitchen, I loaded up the shard pistol, cast a glance at my own

weapon and left it lying there. Instead I scooped up one of the H

grenades and took it back in my other hand. I paused in the doorway to

the bedroom and weighed the two pieces of hardware in each palm as if I

was trying to decide which was the heavier.

"A little something with your phallic substitute, ma'am?"

Sarah looked up from beneath the hanging sickle of black hair over her

fore-head. She was in the midst of pulling a pair of long woolen socks

up over the sheen of her thighs.

"Yours is the one with the long barrel, Tak."

"Size isn't--"

We both heard it at the same time. A metallic double clack from the

corridor outside. Our eyes met across the room, and for a quarter second

I saw my own shock mirrored there. Then I was tossing the loaded shard

gun to her. She put up one long-fingered hand and took it out of the air

just as the whole of the bed-room wall caved in in thunder. The blast

knocked me back into a corner and onto the floor.

They must have located us in the apartment with body-heat sensors, then

mined the whole wall with limpets. Taking no chances this time. The

commando who came through the ruined wall was stocky and insect-eyed in

full gas attack rig, hefting a snub-barreled Kalashnikov in gloved


Ears ringing, still on the floor, I flung the H grenade up at him. It

was un-fused, useless in any case against the gas mask, but he didn't

have time to identify the device as it spun at him. He batted it off the

breech of his Kalashnikov and stumbled back, eyes wide behind the glass

panels of the mask.

"Fire in the hole."

Sarah was down on the floor beside the bed, arms wrapped around her head

and sheltered from the blast. She heard the shout, and in the seconds

the bluff had bought us she popped up again, shard gun outflung. Beyond

the wall I could see figures huddled against the expected grenade blast.

I heard the mosquito whine of monomolecular splinters across the room as

she put three shots into the lead commando. They shredded invisibly

through the attack suit and into the flesh beneath. He made a noise like

someone straining to lift something heavy as the spider venom sank its

claws into his nervous system. I grinned and started to get up.

Sarah was turning her aim on the figures beyond the wall when the second

commando of the night appeared braced in the kitchen doorway and hosed

her away with his assault rifle.

Still on my knees, I watched her die with chemical clarity. It all went

so slowly it was like a video playback on frame advance. The commando

kept his aim low, holding the Kalashnikov down against the

hyper-rapid-fire recoil it was famous for. The bed went first, erupting

into gouts of white goose down and ripped cloth, then Sarah, caught in

the storm as she turned. I saw one leg turned to pulp below the knee,

and then the body hit, bloody fistfuls of tissue torn out of her pale

flanks as she fell through the curtain of fire.

I reeled to my feet as the assault rifle stammered to a halt. Sarah had

rolled over on her face, as if to hide the damage the shells had done to

her, but I saw it all through veils of red anyway. I came out of the

corner without conscious thought, and the commando was too late to bring

the Kalashnikov around. I slammed into him at waist height, blocked the

gun, and knocked him back into the kitchen. The barrel of the rifle

caught on the doorjamb, and he lost his grip. I heard the weapon clatter

to the ground behind me as we hit the kitchen floor. With the speed and

strength of the tetrameth, I scrambled astride him, batted aside one

flailing arm, and seized his head in both hands. Then I smashed it

against the tiles like a coconut.

Under the mask, his eyes went suddenly unfocused. I lifted the head

again and smashed it down again, feeling the skull give soggily with the

impact. I ground down against the crunch, lifted and smashed again.

There was a roaring in my ears like the maelstrom, and somewhere I could

hear my own voice screaming obscenities.

I was going for a fourth or fifth blow when something kicked me between

the shoulder blades and splinters jumped magically out of the table leg

in front of me. I felt the sting as two of them found homes in my face.

For some reason the rage puddled abruptly out of me. I let go of the

commando's head almost gently and was lifting one puzzled hand to the

pain of the splinters in my cheek when I realized I had been shot, and

that the bullet must have torn all the way through my chest and into the

table leg. I looked down, dumbfounded, and saw the dark red stain inking

its way out over my shirt. No doubt about it. An exit hole big enough to

take a golf ball.

With the realization came the pain. It felt as if someone had run a

steel wool pipe cleaner briskly through my chest cavity. Almost

thoughtfully, I reached up, found the hole, and plugged it with my two

middle fingers. The fingertips scraped over the roughness of torn bone

in the wound, and I felt something membranous throb against one of them.

The bullet had missed my heart. I grunted and attempted to rise, but the

grunt turned into a cough and I tasted blood on my tongue.

"Don't you move, motherfucker."

The yell came out of a young throat, badly distorted with shock. I

hunched forward over my wound and looked back over my shoulder. Behind

me in the doorway, a young man in a police uniform had both hands

clasped around the pistol he had just shot me with. He was trembling

visibly. I coughed again and turned back to the table.

The Smith & Wesson was on eye level, gleaming silver, still where I had

left it less than two minutes ago. Perhaps it was that, the scant

shavings of time that had been planed off since Sarah was alive and all

was well, that drove me. Less than two minutes ago I could have picked

up the gun; I'd even thought about it, so why not now? I gritted my

teeth, pressed my fingers harder into the hole in my chest, and

staggered upright. Blood spattered warmly against the back of my throat.

I braced myself on the edge of the table with my free hand and looked

back at the cop. I could feel my lips peeling back from the clenched

teeth in something that was more a grin than a grimace.

"Don't make me do it, Kovacs."

I got myself a step closer to the table and leaned against it with my

thighs, breath whistling through my teeth and bubbling in my throat. The

Smith & Wes-son gleamed like fool's gold on the scarred wood. Out in the

Reach power lashed down from an orbital and lit the kitchen in tones of

blue. I could hear the mael-strom calling.

"I said don't--"

I closed my eyes and clawed the gun off the table.


Coming back from the dead can be rough.

In the Envoy Corps they teach you to let go before storage. Stick it in

neutral and float. It's the first lesson and the trainers drill it into

you from day one. Hard-eyed Virginia Vidaura, dancer's body poised

inside the shapeless corps coveralls as she paced in front of us in the

induction room. Don't worry about anything, she said, and you'll be

ready for it. A decade later, I met her again in a holding pen at the

New Kanagawa Justice Facility. She was going down for eighty to a

century; excessively armed robbery and organic damage. The last thing

she said to me when they walked her out of the cell was don't worry,

kid, they'll store it. Then she bent her head to light a cigarette, drew

the smoke hard into lungs she no longer gave a damn about, and set off

down the corridor as if to a tedious briefing. From the narrow angle of

vision afforded me by the cell gate, I watched the pride in that walk

and I whispered the words to myself like a mantra.

Don't worry, they'll store it. It was a superbly double-edged piece of

street wisdom. Bleak faith in the efficiency of the penal system, and a

clue to the elusive state of mind required to steer you past the rocks

of psychosis. Whatever you feel, whatever you're thinking, whatever you

are when they store you, that's what you'll be when you come out. With

states of high anxiety, that can be a problem. So you let go. Stick it

in neutral. Disengage and float.

If you have time.

I came thrashing up out of the tank, one hand plastered across my chest

searching for the wounds, the other clutching at a nonexistent weapon.

The weight hit me like a hammer, and I collapsed back into the flotation

gel. I flailed with my arms, caught one elbow painfully on the side of

the tank and gasped. Gobbets of gel poured into my mouth and down my

throat. I snapped my mouth shut and got a hold on the hatch coaming, but

the stuff was everywhere. In my eyes, burning my nose and throat, and

slippery under my fingers. The weight was forcing my grip on the hatch

loose, sitting on my chest like a high-g maneuver, pressing me down into

the gel. My body heaved violently in the confines of the tank. Flotation

gel? I was drowning.

Abruptly, there was a strong grip on my arm and I was hauled coughing

into an upright position. At about the same time I was working out there

were no wounds in my chest someone wiped a towel roughly across my face

and I could see. I decided to save that pleasure for later and

concentrated on getting the contents of the tank out of my nose and

throat. For about half a minute I stayed sitting, head down, coughing up

the gel and trying to work out why everything weighed so much.

"So much for training." It was a hard, male voice, the sort that

habitually hangs around justice facilities. "What did they teach you in

the Envoys anyway, Kovacs?"

That was when I had it. On Harlan's World, Kovacs is quite a common

name. Everyone knows how to pronounce it. This guy didn't. He was

speaking a stretched form of the Amanglic they use on the World, but

even allowing for that, he was mangling the name badly, and the ending

came out with a hard k instead of the Slavic ch.

And everything was too heavy.

The realization came through my fogged perceptions like a brick through

frosted plate glass.


Somewhere along the line, they'd taken Takeshi Kovacs (D.H.), and they'd

freighted him. And since Harlan's World was the only habitable biosphere

in the Glimmer system, that meant a stellar-range needlecast to--


I looked up. Harsh neon tubes set in a concrete roof. I was sitting in

the opened hatch of a dull metal cylinder, looking for all the world

like an ancient aviator who'd forgotten to dress before climbing aboard

his biplane. The cylinder was one of a row of about twenty backed up

against the wall, opposite a heavy steel door, which was closed. The was

chilly and the walls unpainted. Give them their due, on Harlan's World

at least the air resleeving rooms are decked out in pastel colors and

the attendants are pretty. After all you're supposed to have paid your

debt to society. The least they can do is give you a sunny start to your

new life.

Sunny wasn't in the vocabulary of the figure before me. About two meters

tall, he looked as if he'd made his living wrestling swamp panthers

before the present career opportunity presented itself. Musculature

bulged on his chest and arms like body armor, and the head above it had

hair cropped close to the skull, revealing a long scar like a lightning

strike down to the left ear. He was dressed in a loose black garment

with epaulettes and a diskette logo on the breast. His eyes matched the

garment and watched me with hardened calm. Having helped me sit up, he

had stepped back out of arm's reach, as per the manual. He'd been doing

this a long time.

I pressed one nostril closed and snorted tank gel out of the other.

"Want to tell me where I am? Itemize my rights, something like that?"

"Kovacs, right now you don't have any rights."

I looked up and saw that a grim smile had stitched itself across his

face. I shrugged and snorted the other nostril clean.

"Want to tell me where I am?"

He hesitated a moment, glanced up at the neon-barred roof as if to

ascertain the information for himself before he passed it on, and then

mirrored my shrug.

"Sure. Why not? You're in Bay City, pal. Bay City, Earth." The grimace

of a smile came back. "Home of the Human Race. Please enjoy your stay on

this most ancient of civilized worlds. Ta-dada-dah."

"Don't give up the day job," I told him soberly.

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 3 comments:

Cheri P, October 31, 2014 (view all comments by Cheri P)
I finally dove into Altered Carbon after receiving a baker's dozen recommendations. I enjoyed it well enough, but it didn't prove to be the knock-my-socks-off experience I thought it may be.

I liked settling into the book. I liked figuring out the world, sleeves, stacks, needlecasts, dipping, viruses, meths, real death... pretty interesting stuff.

I disliked the body count in this book, though. This is one of the more violence-ridden novels I've read in a very long time, and I admit that it put me off. I disliked the torture in this book. I disliked how graphically Morgan detailed the torture, especially when it was done to Kovacs's temporary female sleeve.

That really bugged me.

There are some solid female characters here, that's a plus, though they all seem to use sex as a weapon or tool (with, perhaps, the exception of Trepp... she may be my favorite character in this book). At it's core, this book is about sex, violence, and moral depravity.

Maybe I'll read the next one. If Trepp is in it, I probably will.
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Aveeare, April 22, 2008 (view all comments by Aveeare)
I was bored, needed a book, and picked this up after reading the title. Upon finishing it, my coworker told me her husband had read it and talked about it all the time (so much so that she felt she had a grasp of the world it details). At any rate, reading Altered Carbon was like watching Bladerunner again, and the idea of "sleeving" was really interesting. I'm on his second book, and I heartily recommend that as well.
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(5 of 8 readers found this comment helpful)
Alan Thornsberry, December 10, 2007 (view all comments by Alan Thornsberry)
I work TOO much. I dont have time to read for fun. I know for some, they would never understand that. My wife is one of those people. But for this book I will take a brake. - also, I am a robot.
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(8 of 11 readers found this comment helpful)
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Product Details

Chris Schluep
Del Rey Books
Morgan, Richard K.
New York
Science fiction
Science Fiction - Series
Science Fiction - High Tech
Science / High Tech
Science Fiction and Fantasy-High Tech
Edition Number:
1st American ed.
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Takeshi Kovacs Novels
Series Volume:
Publication Date:
March 4, 2003
Grade Level:
9.28x6.29x.85 in. .83 lbs.

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Altered Carbon Used Trade Paper
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Product details 384 pages Del Rey Books - English 9780345457684 Reviews:
"Staff Pick" by ,

This debut novel effortlessly blends the techno-fetish of William Gibson, the hardboiled detective narrative of Dashiell Hammett and the rapid-fire heroic bloodshed of the films of John Woo. If you enjoy such cyberpunk classics as Snow Crash and Neuromancer, Altered Carbon deserves a space on your reading list.

"Review" by , "For readers who enjoy their heroes nihilistic and their action raw, Altered Carbon is the must-read book of the year. This is post-millennial storytelling of the highest order: one that raises the bar for future cyberpunk writers." (read the entire review)
"Review" by , "This fast-paced, densely textured, impressive first novel is an intriguing hybrid of William Gibson's Neuromancer and Norman Spinrad's Deus X....Morgan's 25th-century Earth is convincing, while the questions he poses about how much Self is tied to body chemistry and how the rich believe themselves above the law are especially timely."
"Review" by , "The way ahead is quickly littered with...enough juicy future-detail to make any veteran SF scribe jealous. The body count is high, the gadgetry pure genius, the sex scenes deliriously overwrought, and the worn cynicism thoroughly distasteful: a welcome return to cyberpunk's badass roots."
"Review" by , "This seamless marriage of hardcore cyberpunk and hard-boiled detective tale is an astonishing first novel."
"Review" by , "An exciting SF/crime hybrid, with an intricate (but always plausible) plot, a powerful noir atmosphere, and enough explosive action to satisfy the most die-hard thriller fan."
"Review" by , "Altered Carbon plays out like a film in your head. The landscape and vision are gritty and vivid, recalling Blade Runner."
"Review" by , "This far-future hard-boiled detective story is a lovely virtual-reality romp distinguished by a conspiracy whose strands have the potential to generate several successful sequels, which is just what its publicity promises."
"Review" by , "An exhilarating and glossy adventure....What makes Altered Carbon a winner is the quality of Morgan?s prose. For every piece of John Woo action there is a stunning piece of reflective description, a compelling sense of place, and abundant 24-karat witticisms."
"Review" by , "Morgan's debut novel, the first in a series, combines noir mystery with ultra-high tech science to create a complex sf thriller. Featuring a hard-nosed antihero with his own sense of personal honor and ethics, this is highly recommended for sf collections."
"Review" by , "If you've ever wondered what kind of science fiction Raymond Chandler might have written for a futuristic Philip Marlowe, check out Altered Carbon....[T]he pleasures to be gleaned from such entertainments hardly depend on the exercise of ratiocination. It's been said that not even Chandler could untwist all the kinks in the plot of The Big Sleep."
"Review" by , "An astonishing piece of work....A wonderful SF idea....Altered Carbon hits the floor running and then starts to accelerate. Intriguing and inventive in equal proportions and refuses to let go until the last page."
"Synopsis" by , A stunning debut sci-fi/noir thriller reminiscent of Blade Runner — and the beginning of a new series featuring a one-of-a-kind anti-hero: ex-UN envoy Takeshi Kovaks.
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