kat's Reviews > Altered Carbon

Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan
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did not like it
bookshelves: read-in-2015

This book is terrible!

It’s a juvenile male sex/power fantasy that drags out for hundreds of pages. That’s it. There *are* some interesting science-fictional ideas, but they're no more than window-dressing adorning mind-numbingly repetitive sequences of over-the-top violence, problematic sex, cardboard characters, clunky exposition, and a sludgy, meandering and incoherent plot. (The author is clearly of the school of thought that gratuitous sex and violence are “gritty” or "edgy" and therefore a substitute for narrative depth).

The protagonist is an utterly unlikeable Mary Sue with super-soldier training that only works when convenient for progressing the plot along, but is also constantly hand-waved away. He literally spends the entire book doing or saying things and then being like “Gosh my Envoy training really should have prevented me from doing that, I must be slipping.” The author continuously tells us how the protagonist is really smart, perceptive, etc. but in practice he’s a complete tool. (In a better book I would be willing to fridge-logic this as his own perception of himself being out-of-sync with reality, since the book is written in the first person, but I think that would be giving this one too much credit for self-awareness.)

One of the most cringe-worthy sex scenes was one in which the two participants were empathically-linked. That’s a super hot concept! It takes special skill to make it about as unsexy as day-old gym clothes, but somehow he manages it. Maybe it’s just because at that point I was already SO DONE with Kovacs' boner. Practically every chapter has pointless sexual stuff shoehorned into it even when it’s completely irrelevant to the story! I rapidly became totally sick of him mentally undressing every woman he met, and that’s ignoring the really problematic stuff, like the part where he creepily feels up the suspended-animation clone of his boss’ wife, or where he gets kidnapped and his captors put him into a woman’s body so that they can rape him. Not cool.

But the top reason for the scathing review: I have a special hatred for stories that introduce technological ideas that cause (or at least, should cause) people to grapple with interesting philosophical questions… and then proceed to utterly ignore said questions in favor of generic action movie tropes. It just makes me angry. You have all these cool ideas and then all you can do with them is construct an entirely unchallenging narrative in which our hero shoots a bunch of people and sleeps with women? You want me to buy that immortality has become something you can purchase, and people can body-swap at will, and yet society and people’s identities are pretty much the same as in a 1940s mobster flick?

There’s seriously an entire chapter describing in exhaustive, needless detail the protagonist shopping for guns. So that tells you basically all you need to know about this book.

No, wait. At some point in the book, the protagonist gets cloned, and then proceeds to have a conversation with his clone about his/their motivation and feelings and the plot thus far. They then go on to discuss his personal history, despite the fact that THEY ARE LITERALLY THE SAME PERSON and there is no reason whatsoever for them to need to talk about that!

THAT tells you all you need to know about this book. It's written in the first person, which provides the best possible way to show readers the protagonist's innermost thoughts, and yet the author is so bad at creating any kind of emotional depth that this conversation seemed like a good idea.

The entire book is full of boring, pointless scenes that serve as filler between the events of the generally uneventful plot, but the Kovacs vs. Kovacs conversation is pretty much the low point.

What I’d recommend you read instead: The Peripheral, Surface Detail, Permutation City.
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Reading Progress

March 26, 2015 – Started Reading
March 26, 2015 – Shelved
April 18, 2015 – Shelved as: read-in-2015
April 18, 2015 – Finished Reading

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