Because you should be. The much-hyped, big budget Netflix adaptation of Richard Morgan’s definitive tech noir dystopian novel is out now, and – despite some questionable deviations from the book’s plot about halfway through, but I’ll get back to that – it’s absolutely spectacular.
In Morgan’s cyberpunk sci-fi future, human consciousness is digitised and stored in so-called “cortical stacks” which can be swapped into new bodies or “sleeves”, making mortality a brief inconvenience between downloads. If you can afford it, anyway. When one of mega-rich Earth businessman Laurens Bancroft’s clones is murdered (… maybe), he hires ex-supersoldier Takeshi Kovacs to solve the crime. But things are much more complicated than they seem.
SPOILERS FOR THOSE OF YOU WHO HAVE READ THE BOOK BUT NOT SEEN THE TV SHOW. OR IF YOU DIDN’T READ THE BOOK AND HAVEN’T SEEN THE SHOW. BASICALLY, STOP NOW IF YOU WANT TO WATCH THE SHOW.
TV and movie adaptations of books must frequently make alterations to aspects of the original’s plot, because what works in a book doesn’t necessarily work on a screen for a number of reasons that don’t matter for the purposes of this discussion. In the Netflix version of Altered Carbon, some of these are entirely inconsequential. The Hendrix hotel, for example, is now The Raven, featuring an AI Edgar Allan Poe as its proprietor.
Other changes are not so inconsequential, however. In the book, the Envoys were a spec ops Protectorate unit. In the TV show, they’re a rebel faction, led by philosopher Quellcrist Falconer (who is dead by the time of the book’s events), pledged to disrupt and break the re-sleeving system – exactly the sort of extremist revolutionaries that the Envoys in the book were deployed to deal with, and, awkwardly, the opposite of what they were in the book. The show’s Quellcrist is like an amalgam of Takeshi’s Envoy instructor Virginia Vidaura and the actual Quellcrist.
So that’s bizarre and kind of confusing, but perhaps more controversially, the show reinvents Reileen Kawahara, the owner of a brothel catering to some… outré predilections, as Takeshi’s sister. This revelation might not have been such a big deal, as the original character’s motives aren’t substantially different from this one’s, but the finale’s emotional exploitation of this dysfunctional relationship and the somewhat dreary showdown between her and Takeshi undermines the much more interesting result of the Bancroft investigation. So I guess I have mixed feelings about that.