Review: Altered Carbon

{Ed. note: Another thing languishing in my Drafts for multiple years.  Maybe I thought I’d be expanding it?  Clearly I won’t, so here it is.}

I’ve finished all of (season one?) of Altered Carbon, and have reached the conclusion that it is decidedly … adequate. It’s so-so cyberpunk and so-so noir, desperately trying to be distinct from Blade Runner while simultaneously desperately wanting to be Blade Runner.

Spoilers below the fold.

Despite the core technology being literally centuries old, characters are continually surprised by (what seem to me to be) obvious implications and applications.  Even though cloning and “resleeving” is so routine it can be used for intercontinental travel, everyone takes as a given that a “biolock” can restrict access to weapons to just two people in the whole world.   To be fair, that plot point eventually becomes relevant (though in a red herring), but even after, people continue to act as if one’s identity is uniquely tied to one’s body — even though some characters live only in VR for a while, and have no body.

Likewise, consciousness can be duplicated and we see early on a “double-sleeved” criminal living two lives — but everyone is surprised and aghast when the hero does something similar at the end.  Worse, the Big Bad — who has been doing something similar for centuries — falls for it and is caught off guard.  But that’s alright, because the jaded and cynical detective is caught completely flatfooted by the Big Bad’s own incredibly-obvious trick.  So I guess it balances?

We have the obligatory flying cars (a la Blade Runner’s spinners, with obvious debt toward the latter), operated apparently by human drivers — which makes zero sense.

It’s a fine line to walk between homage and simulacrum, and noir can be hard to get right.  Altered Carbon hits most of them, but sometimes off-tempo.  Yes, it rains all the time — Bay City is about cheery as Gotham — and yes, the streets are crowded by people milling about to no apparent purpose.  The detective gives us long monologues of supposed insight, though Kouvacs is, to be blunt, a bit boring.  His long arc of redemption is exactly what you’d expect and proceeds just a tad slower than you’d expect it.

I did fully appreciate the way the detective, for his own purposes, sets up and frames a minor character to end the investigation he no longer finds useful.  That was well done and quite in keeping with 1940s film noir.


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