Altered Carbon
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4.05 / 5

"Altered Carbon" Summary

By Richard K. Morgan

science fiction | 544 pages | Published in NaN

Four hundred years from now mankind is strung out across a region of interstellar space inherited from an ancient civilization discovered on Mars. The colonies are linked together by the occasional sublight colony ship voyages and hyperspatial data-casting. Human consciousness is digitally freighted between the stars and downloaded into bodies as a matter of course.But some things never change. So when ex-envoy, now-convict Takeshi Kovacs has his consciousness and skills downloaded into the body of a nicotine-addicted ex-thug and presented with a catch-22 offer, he really shouldn't be surprised. Contracted by a billionaire to discover who murdered his last body, Kovacs is drawn into a terrifying conspiracy that stretches across known space and to the very top of society.


Estimated read time: 6 min read

One Sentence Summary

In a future where consciousness can be transferred to new bodies, a former elite soldier is hired to solve a murder that leads him down a dark and dangerous path.


In the futuristic world of "Altered Carbon" by Richard K. Morgan, death is no longer permanent. Human consciousness can be digitized and transferred to different bodies, known as "sleeves." This groundbreaking technology has transformed society and created a world where the wealthy can live forever. The story follows Takeshi Kovacs, a former elite soldier turned private investigator, as he navigates a corrupt and dangerous world filled with intrigue, violence, and moral ambiguity.

Brief Synopsis

"Altered Carbon" is set in a dystopian future where humanity has colonized other planets and developed the ability to store consciousness in cortical stacks, small devices implanted in the spine. These stacks can be transferred to different bodies, allowing people to live indefinitely as long as they have the means to afford a new sleeve.

The story begins with Takeshi Kovacs, a former Envoy soldier, being brought back to life after being killed on another planet. He is "resleeved" into the body of a former police officer named Elias Ryker. Kovacs is hired by Laurens Bancroft, one of the wealthiest men on Earth, to investigate his own murder. Bancroft believes he was killed but cannot remember the events leading up to his death due to his stack being damaged.

As Kovacs delves into the investigation, he uncovers a web of corruption, power struggles, and dark secrets that reach the highest levels of society. Along the way, he encounters various allies and enemies, including a seductive AI named Poe, a ruthless assassin named Reileen Kawahara, and a religious group called the Neo-Catholic Church that opposes the use of cortical stacks.

The story takes place in a gritty and futuristic city known as Bay City (formerly San Francisco), where the divide between the rich and the poor is stark. The wealthy live in luxurious high-rise buildings, while the less fortunate struggle in the city's lower levels, known as "the Stacks."

Main Events

Chapter 1Takeshi Kovacs is "resleeved" into the body of Elias Ryker. He meets Laurens Bancroft, who hires him to investigate his own murder.
Chapter 2Kovacs begins his investigation and visits the crime scene where Bancroft was killed. He discovers evidence that suggests Bancroft's death was not a suicide as originally believed.
Chapter 3Kovacs meets with Miriam Bancroft, Laurens' wife, who offers him a deal to drop the investigation. He refuses and continues to dig deeper into the case.
Chapter 4Kovacs discovers a connection between Bancroft's murder and a mysterious figure known as "The Ghostwalker." He follows the trail, encountering dangerous situations along the way.
Chapter 5Kovacs confronts Reileen Kawahara, his estranged sister and a prominent figure in the criminal underworld. She reveals her involvement in Bancroft's murder and attempts to kill Kovacs.
Chapter 6Kovacs narrowly escapes from Reileen and seeks refuge at The Raven Hotel, run by an AI named Poe. He formulates a plan to bring down the powerful individuals behind Bancroft's murder.
Chapter 7Kovacs gathers evidence against the corrupt individuals involved in Bancroft's murder and exposes their crimes to the public. He confronts Laurens Bancroft, who reveals the truth behind his own death.
Chapter 8Kovacs confronts Reileen once again, leading to a climactic showdown. He ultimately defeats her and ensures justice is served. The story ends with Kovacs contemplating his future and the nature of immortality.

Main Characters

  1. Takeshi Kovacs - The protagonist and former Envoy soldier turned private investigator. Kovacs is skilled in combat and has a cynical outlook on life.
  2. Laurens Bancroft - A wealthy and powerful man who hires Kovacs to investigate his own murder.
  3. Reileen Kawahara - Kovacs' estranged sister and a high-ranking member of the criminal underworld.
  4. Miriam Bancroft - Laurens' wife, who becomes a key player in the investigation.
  5. Poe - An AI hotel manager who provides refuge and assistance to Kovacs.

Themes and Insights

Immortality and Identity

"Altered Carbon" explores the concept of immortality and the implications it has on human identity. With the ability to transfer consciousness to different bodies, individuals can essentially live forever. However, this raises questions about the value of life, the nature of personal identity, and the consequences of eternal existence.

Class Divide and Power

The book also delves into the themes of social inequality and the abuse of power. The wealthy elite have a monopoly on immortality, while the less fortunate struggle to survive. The story highlights the corrupting influence of power and the lengths people will go to maintain their privileged status.

Morality and Ethics

The use of cortical stacks raises ethical questions regarding the sanctity of life and the right to die. The book explores the moral implications of immortality, the commodification of bodies, and the potential for abuse and exploitation.

Reader's Takeaway

"Altered Carbon" is a thrilling and thought-provoking science fiction novel that combines elements of cyberpunk, noir, and dystopia. It offers a captivating exploration of themes such as identity, power, and morality in a futuristic world where death is no longer permanent. The complex characters, intricate plot, and philosophical insights make it a must-read for fans of the genre.


"Altered Carbon" by Richard K. Morgan presents a compelling vision of a future where death is no longer the end. Through the eyes of Takeshi Kovacs, readers are immersed in a world of high-stakes investigations, corrupt power dynamics, and existential questions about the nature of life and identity. With its gripping narrative and thought-provoking themes, this novel is sure to leave a lasting impression on readers and ignite discussions about the future of technology and its impact on society.

Altered Carbon FAQ

  1. What is 'Altered Carbon' about?

    'Altered Carbon' is a science fiction novel set in a future where consciousness can be transferred to different bodies, known as sleeves. The story follows Takeshi Kovacs, a former elite soldier who is hired to solve the murder of a wealthy man named Laurens Bancroft.

  2. Who is the author of 'Altered Carbon'?

    'Altered Carbon' is written by Richard K. Morgan.

  3. Is 'Altered Carbon' part of a series?

    Yes, 'Altered Carbon' is the first book in the Takeshi Kovacs series. It is followed by two sequels: 'Broken Angels' and 'Woken Furies'.

  4. What genre does 'Altered Carbon' belong to?

    'Altered Carbon' is a cyberpunk science fiction novel.

  5. Is 'Altered Carbon' suitable for young readers?

    No, 'Altered Carbon' contains mature themes, violence, and explicit language, making it more suitable for adult readers.

  6. Has 'Altered Carbon' been adapted into other media?

    Yes, 'Altered Carbon' has been adapted into a television series of the same name, available on Netflix.

  7. What are some other notable works by Richard K. Morgan?

    Richard K. Morgan is also known for his other science fiction novels such as 'Market Forces' and 'Thirteen'.

  8. Is 'Altered Carbon' a standalone book or does it have a cliffhanger ending?

    'Altered Carbon' can be read as a standalone novel, but it also sets up the possibilities for further stories in the series.

  9. Where can I purchase 'Altered Carbon'?

    'Altered Carbon' is available for purchase at various bookstores, online retailers, and as an e-book.

  10. Are there any plans for future books in the 'Altered Carbon' series?

    As of now, there are no official announcements regarding future books in the 'Altered Carbon' series.