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Altered Carbon (Anglais) Broché – 4 mars 2003

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Descriptions du produit



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.

Revue de presse

“This seamless marriage of hardcore cyberpunk and hard-boiled detective tale is an astonishing first novel.”
—London Times

“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.”

“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.”
—SF Site

“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.”
—SFX Magazine

Détails sur le produit

  • Broché: 384 pages
  • Editeur : Del Rey; Édition : First American Edition (4 mars 2003)
  • Langue : Anglais
  • ISBN-10: 0345457684
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345457684
  • Dimensions du produit: 15,6 x 2,1 x 23,4 cm
  • Moyenne des commentaires client : 4.5 étoiles sur 5  Voir tous les commentaires (2 commentaires client)
  • Classement des meilleures ventes d'Amazon: 504.850 en Livres anglais et étrangers (Voir les 100 premiers en Livres anglais et étrangers)
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6 internautes sur 7 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile  Par D. Thierry le 4 janvier 2007
Format: Broché
Ce livre réconciliera les amateurs de roman noir avec la science-fiction. Dans un style haletant, l'auteur nous embarque dans un monde futuriste qui ferait passer celui de Blade Runner pour une ballade à EuroDisney, sans passer par les attractions. A la fois flamboyant et noir, noir, noir...

En relisant l'Argent de Zola récemment, je me suis dit que cent ans de socialisme n'ont pas vraiment changé le monde. Exit Marx et ses idées saugrenues et vive le libéralisme pur et dur: agrandissons la fracture sociale pour aboutir à un univers où les riches ont le choix de se glisser dans les plus beaux corps pour assouvir leurs perversions et les pauvres rêvent de récupérer le leur... et vous aurez une petite idée de l'univers de Morgan. Inutile de chercher des états d'âme au héros, il a été programmé pour ne pas en avoir... à moins qu'on lui marche sur les pieds!

Je recommande chaudement ce livre, à déconseiller aux âmes sensibles, et invite les lecteurs à se plonger dans les deux séquelles: Broken Angels et Woken Furies.
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1 internautes sur 1 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile  Par Lombardo le 21 avril 2014
Format: Format Kindle Achat vérifié
Worth it to become a great movie with a Ridley Scott-like maneuvring director. Could Hollywood studios or Netflix get this courage!
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Amazon.com: 438 commentaires
156 internautes sur 162 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Excellent Cyber Pulp Debut 17 mars 2004
Par A. Ross - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché
Ever since I saw Blade Runner as a kid, I've been in love with the idea of blending science-fiction with crime, and this is a totally compelling mix of the two. Set about 500 years in the future, the story follows Takeshi Kovacs, a former space marine who has been "resleeved" to investigate a suicide on Earth. You see, in the future, one's mind or consciousness can be digitized and stored in "stacks" implanted in the base of your skull. If you commit a crime, your stack is removed and placed in storage for the duration of your sentence (usually decades or centuries), and then you are "resleeved" in a new body. Of course, resleeving costs, and for many people, a new body is like a new car or new house, with monthly payments to keep up lest your body get repossessed...
The flip side of this is that dying is only a temporary thing-unless your stack has been somehow destroyed and there's no backup, then you're subject to "RD" (real death). And if you've got enough money to get into cloning and data storage, one can live a virtually endless and seamless life. It's one of these "Meths" (after Methuselah, just one example of the excellent creation of slang in the book), who has Takeshi remanded and "needlecast" (digitally freighted) from offworld to investigate his alleged suicide in Bay City (aka San Francisco). Takeshi had been in prison, having been captured as a mercenary in a vibrantly kinetic prologue.
The meth, Bancroft, is one of the future elite, weaving elaborate corporate and political webs with others of his kind. Apparently he committed suicide a few weeks ago, but he's convinced it was murder. He's paid heftily to have Kovacs released and resleeved to investigate his death and what happened in the 48 hours leading up to it-48 hours that elapsed between his last stack backup and his temporary death. This is a great setup, as we have a reluctant protagonist grudgingly working on a case for a sinister Bancroft, quickly getting caught up with Bay City PD, Bancroft's hyper-sexy wife, and all kinds of foes.
It's an extremely convoluted tale, with lots of double-crossing, plot twists, hidden agendas, sexual tension (and outright graphic sex), dry tough guy humor, and excellent action sequences. It's so jam-packed it almost gets overwhelming at times, and one wishes Morgan had been able to trim just a little bit here and there. However, he's built a very intriguing and nasty future earth, where-as one might well imagine-a lot of the technology gets channeled into the sex trade. This is great pulp fiction, with great characters, including my favorite: the AI Hendrix Hotel. It's a hotel that runs itself using artificial intelligence, making for a hilarious, yet plausible, character. This is a great genre-blending debut, let's hope the sequel (Broken Angels) is as good.
77 internautes sur 85 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Brilliantly realized 31 août 2003
Par John S. Ryan - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché
This is one of the best new SF novels I've read in the last ten years.

It's enough of a treat that Richard Morgan can _write_. The author bio indicates that he taught English as a second language for some fourteen years; he can teach a thing or two to us native speakers as well. His narrative and his dialogue are clean, crisp, and focused, with that sense of heightened reality you get from really good fiction; there's not a word out of place, and there's none of the mannered artificiality of e.g. Frank Herbert's _Dune_.

But it's even better than good writing. Morgan has applied his craft to a brand of fiction that one of the cover blurbs describes as a cross between hard-core cyberpunk and hard-boiled detective fiction. That's an odd description of the genre and makes it sound newer than it is, but it's true that there hasn't been a lot of SF detective fiction. And Morgan's contribution advances the ball considerably.

If you're at all familiar with the genre, you're already thinking of Larry Niven's ARM stories (and maybe, though less aptly, of Asimov's _The Caves of Steel_ and _The Naked Sun_). Well, Morgan's world does owe something to Niven's, but he's got very much his own spin. His main character (Takeshi Kovacs), though arguably more Mike Hammer than Hiro Protagonist despite the snowcrashy backdrop, will remind longtime fen of the wisecracking tough-guy heroes that have populated SF since at least the days of Keith Laumer (not to mention Harry Harrison's Stainless Steel Rat). But he's not just a carbon copy (even an altered one).

And Morgan has found a very interesting way around a problem that has plagued detective fiction since its inception: when your narrative is written in the first person, how do you keep the reader from figuring out that the narrator doesn't get killed? Oh, you can do a Jim Thompson and have the character narrate his own death, but otherwise there aren't too many possibilities.

Morgan has discovered one. As you'll learn within the first few pages, Kovacs has _already_ died at least once, and there's nothing to keep him from dying again, perhaps repeatedly; for reasons that will be clear early on, his death wouldn't keep him from narrating the novel.

The plot is ingenious: it seems that one Laurens Bancroft has committed suicide, but Bancroft himself believes he was murdered and hires Our Hero to investigate. (Yes, you read that correctly; the alleged murder victim wants to know how he was killed.) Beyond that, I'm not going to tell you anything that might spoil your fun.

I _will_ tell you to keep your eyes peeled for a huge number of incredibly cool background details. Like Heinlein, Morgan drops you into the middle of the tale and introduces you to its world in the natural course of the narrative, rather than calling attention to it tourist-fashion. In the process he mentions lots of nifty things that could have been entire novels in their own right (and John W. Campbell would have loved every one of them) -- e.g. computer-automated hotels that upgraded to sentience and bought themselves out from under corporate ownership. Morgan's throwaway ideas are better than most SF writers' main plot points.

I'll also tell you that, as one or two other reviewers have pointed out, there's some fairly graphic sex in this novel -- not to mention some vivid and disturbing violence. It's extraordinarily well-written and I thought it was all quite tastefully handled. But if you haven't got the stomach for such stuff, be warned.

_Very_ highly recommended. If you've spent the last decade or two wondering where all the really good SF has gone, check this one out. It's already on my best-of-recent-SF shortlist, alongside some Alastair Reynolds, China Mieville, Neal Stephenson, and a very small handful of others.
15 internautes sur 15 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Technocrime 17 août 2003
Par J. Bowman - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché
Morgan writes one of the most stunning new SF books in some time, bringing us a noir thriller in an exotic yet frighteningly familiar future. The tone is firmly set not in the halls of Science Fiction, but in the legacy of 1930's hard-boiled crime fiction, full of plots, counterplots, seamy locales, seamier people, and above all, sex, violence, and death.

This is a world where no one dies for good, where bodies are cloned and personalities held in cortical "stacks" sleeved into them. A rich man "died" by apparent suicide, and when revived calls in a renowned offworld criminal to investigate. What Takeshi Kovacs finds are unhelpful cops, people and gangs out to hurt or kill him, bewildering events, lies everywhere, and dead bodies showing up around every corner. Every ally is a potential enemy, with the exception of the hotel he stays in.

After being chased, shot at, beaten, burned, tortured, and nearly killed many times, he slowly realizes that behind it all is another of the ancient power players of the world, one with whom he has an old history. Only then Kovacs tries to get the upper hand, methodically manipulating events to a final showdown.

The perspective is gritty, hardened, and not a little bitter. Kovacs is an antihero more than willing to take whatever measures he feels are necessary, including killing - permanently. He is a seasoned Envoy, a long-time criminal (though just how is hazy), and has been through many bodies and many worlds. No one is particularly likable, but many are somehow sympathetic. The combination of hard crime thriller with many unique SF elements - Science Fiction, and San Fransisco - works well. The author has done a great job here.

There are deeper ideas floating around. What is death? What would revival mean for religion, for law enforcement, and for life in general? How would the elite change? Every member of the upper-class is distasteful or downright evil, seeing people as pawns and playtoys; to the author they have no redeeming social value. The epilogue is a little trite, but that's made up for by all the psychadelic dream sequences, Kovacs' dead buddy Jimmy De Soto giving him advice from time to time.

An engrossing book, with a very satisfying ending leaving more than enough room for sequels. If you don't mind seeing the very worst of humanity, and rather gratuitous sex at times, I highly recommend.
34 internautes sur 39 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Outstanding Neo-Sci-Fi Noir 27 mai 2003
Par John Willis - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché
Altered Carbon was an amazing first novel for Richard Morgan. This guy has a future! The book is dark and slick. It defintely has a Blade Runner feel to it along with some Matrix and Maltese Falcon (or even China Town)like mystery thrown in for good measure. The hero (Kovaks)can handle himself in a fight (he is enhanced) but is quite witty at the same time. His one liners cracked me up. The technology of sleeving (down loading one's mind through science into another body) is also fascinating and scary. Overall this is a great summer beach book. If you are looking for a good detective novel set in a futuristic Gibson/Blade Runner like society with lots of action and phylosophy concerning the nature of the human soul get Altered Carbon!
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Bad novel, bad noire, bad SF 27 mars 2004
Par Tom Rogers - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché
Obviously my very strong negative reaction to this novel is in the minority, so before anyone takes my opinion too seriously he/she should take a look at some of the other reviews. Since I am writing in dissent here, I apologise for my less than pithy comments. To see where I'm coming from, you might want to read 'Voice of the Whirlwind' (Williams) which is very similar to 'Altered Carbon' and which succeeds where 'Altered Carbon'falls short. I can review the high points quickly, the thumbnail sketch of the noirish detective story is very good (the overall plot strategy you might say) and the writing on a scene by scene or at the line level frequently sizzles, however at the operational level of plotting and character 'Altered Carbon' mostly failed to work for me. It doesn't work as good science fiction either, and that's a good place to start.
The first person narrator (Kovacs, the 'detective') is supposedly an informed citizen of his future, yet he often lapses into modes of thought which are more appropriate to much more primitive times. This lapse into anachronistic thought patterns happens either for the sake of expedience or to create bogus 'surprises' for both the reader and the narrator. There's a good example of the expedient variety where the protagonist goes off onto a pointless killing spree, knowing that he's under close surveillance by the police and one or two other parties without worrying about any sort of precautionary or evasive action. Maybe Kovacs is just being stupid because the guy doesn't even look over his shoulder, but it also shows that he isn't worrying about futuristic bugs, vastly improved video surveillance syetems etc. So I guess this exemplifies two shoddy practices, expedient anachronism and stupidity. Obviously, the author's aware of this fault as there's an attempt to paper over this problem, when it's later revealed that the police lost track of Kovacs, but of course he had no way of knowing that at the time he set off on his rampage. If devices of this sort are employed sparingly, I'm pretty forgiving, but if I see that the writer uses them knowingly and often, I think he's disrepecitng my intelligence and indulgence.
The problems with character and plot in 'Altered Carbon' are so closely entwined it's hard to treat them separately. However, the first big problem is that Kovacs is inconsistent, and ironically, another character in the novel obligingly points that out to us, though the inconsistency encompasses more than merely his personality. He's supposed to be some sort of renegade super-effectvie super-psychopath as the result of special training and conditioning. However, he seems more like an impotent, gratuitously violent, unpredictabley sentimental thug, maybe someone like Bobby Brown (Whitney's beau). Everybody in the story, including the viewpoint character, tells us the opposite though. In the context of all the violence and adulation, the reader expects Kovacs to be a smart tough guy, but looking at what he does, how he does it, and why he does it, there doesn't seem to much support for that belief. In order to talk about why the protagonist appears to be wonderfully ineffective and how most of the other characters fail to work for me, I'll need to look at the plot.
The plot moves largely by employing a hackneyed device from detective stories. Almost every bit of knowledge or effective action that comes Kovacs' way is either provided by, done by, or massively enabled by the various women that our hero encounters. Virtually everything he does on his own is either wrong or futile or stupid. Basically, the women he meets fall over themselves to help him out (to be fair at least one wants to kill him) it's like watching a TV episode of 'Mike Hammer' which equally relied on this cliche, but with tongue firmly in cheek, 'Altered Carbon', alas, has no sense of humor about it's absurdities or awkward bits. This dependence on others renders Kovacs very passive and ineffective as a character and makes it hard to beleive what we're told about him or that he qualifies as an amazing and scary guy. Anyway, in order to believe that all these women (and at least one computer) are willing to go to great lengths, take substantial risks, and go against their own best interests to help Kovacs out, I require either sufficient motivation or plotting that manages to keep me from worrying about what is motivating the characters. In this case, I worried a lot about motivation and generally found it wanting, though there's one striking and very cool counterexample.
I think I'll now close with another coupled defect, an example of noire failure and the eager embrace of a dangerous and very popular plot convention which has been ruining many Science Fiction novels for years. A classic noire story is a gestalt allegoy. It starts with the protagonist working on the basis of bad data, mistaken theories and flawed methods, he/she follows these and tests them against a radically different reality, which leads to an enlightenment and some sort of action and conclusion in harmony with the true state of affairs. The point of maximum cognitive dissonance generally occurs very close to the climax. In 'Altered Carbon' this point occurs about 1/3 of the way through the story, and at that point the first part of the novel has an abortive termination and then the novel gets started almost from scratch all over again. For me, the tempo never felt right thereafter. I've seen this structure work, but most of the authors I consider superior noire stylists don't even try. The practice of throwing away a big chunk of a novel and starting all over again is bafflingly common in Science Fiction, and the conventional noire plot easliy lends itself to it, but it's rarely pulled off in either genre or combinations thereof.
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