February 4, 2007
Richard Morgan’s Altered Carbon introduced us to the bleak future of Takeshi Kovacs, where humanity is stretched thin across a number of partially terraformed colony worlds, most of them run by a small handful of powerful elite, and ruled by the iron fist of the UN, the Envoys — a group of elite commandos trained to be emotionless and deadly killers.
Humanity has hit the stars by decoding the barest bit of advanced technology from the Martian outpost of an extinct (or at least missing) alien race, creating a culture where everyone has a “cortical stack” in their spine that records their memory and personality, and can be used to “re-sleeve” them in a new body in the event of their death. Well, those who can afford it. This technology allows the rich to be virtually immortal,keeps the working class fighting to afford an insurance policy that will cover it, and makes sure that the poor get a single brutal lifetime — or “prison” sentences where they are just stored as data while somebody new gets their body.
The same technology has allowed the UN to colonize the stars, with stored personalities and germ cells aboard robot ships that travel the slow sub-light distances to planets identified in the alien ruins. Once a colony is established, the rich can have their personalities squirted across to new designer clones, and the Envoys can be deployed into warfare optimum bodies.
In this world Takeshi Kovacs is a man stranded out on the sparse edge of his own history — grown up as a thug on a backwater colony in the wake of a charismatic revolutionary, trained, brutally used and ultimately betrayed by the Envoy Corps, screwed over again and again as a mercenary and a criminal — the only occupation available for an ex-Envoy, with his past (gapped by years of transport, storage, and the occasional imprisonment) stretching behind him over hundreds of years and dozens of bodies.