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Altered Carbon is the first book in a Cyberpunk trilogy (often called either the Altered Carbon series or the Takeshi Kovacs series) by British writer Richard K Morgan.

The series takes place some 500 years into the future, in the UN Protectorate, a totalitarian government spread over several different planets that enforces its rule with the use of 'Envoys'; mentally-conditioned Shock Troopers who specialise in covert deployment and bringing down rebel governments.

In the series Mars has been discovered to have once been part of a galaxy-spanning alien civilisation, which collapsed for reasons unknown millennia ago.

All three books follow the Sociopathic Hero Takeshi Kovacs, an ex-Envoy turned criminal/ mercenary/ bodyguard/ detective, who uses his talents for problem solving coupled with insane violence to earn a buck. Takeshi is not without his psychological problems, however, many of them received in service with the Envoys and a fair few picked up afterwards.

The first book, Altered Carbon, sees Kovacs brought out of digitised storage (used as punishment for crimes) and sent to Earth to work as a private detective for a super-wealthy 'Meth' (from 'Methuselah'); someone rich and powerful enough to afford to live for several concurrent lifetimes. The Meth; Laurens Bancroft, has recently returned from the dead (thanks to a personality backup) after an apparent suicide, but maintains that he would never kill himself. Due to the backup schedule he is missing the 48 hours prior to his death. He hires Kovacs to find out who killed him and why.

The second book, Broken Angels, is a war story, set on the planet of Sanction IV. Kovacs is now serving in a mercenary unit fighting for the UN against the native rebels of the planet, when he encounters a pilot named Jan Schneider, who is looking for protection for an expedition to exploit a Martian artifact discovered just before the war broke out. Kovacs helps Schneider break out the archeologist who led the initial expedition from a POW camp, and the trio them embark on a mission to find a corporate sponsor the finance their mission.

The third book, Woken Furies, finds Kovacs back on his homeworld of Harlan's World; a largely aquatic planet colonised by Japanese and Slavs. The book begins as a Roaring Rampage of Revenge as Kovacs hunts down members of a Church who sentenced a friend of his to death, but he soon becomes involved in a growing revolutionary plot to overthrow the UN-backed government.

Tropes used in The Takeshi Kovacs Series include:


  • Action Bomb: People can be fitted with internal explosives, allowing them to explode at will (Though there is a significant risk of accidental detonation). There are also examples where the explosives are set to go off upon the user's death.
  • Action Survivor: Tanya Wardani of Broken Angels.
  • AI Is a Crapshoot: Thoroughly averted. Without exception, in all three books, the artificial intelligences we encounter are friendly, cooperative and unobstrusive.
    • Although it's mentioned that some are into some disturbingly illegal activities.
    • The hive-mind-like artificial intelligence driving the nanomachine colony, on the other hand, gets seriously out of control.
  • A Is: There are many of them around, and some even have rights under UN law.
  • Alien Geometries: Anything the Martians have built tends to have a negative effect on the mental well-being of people exposed to it for long unless they have some sort of appropriate conditioning. It is less a problem of violating the laws of physics and more simply because they are literally alien geometries, as the Martians were avian and followed a different logic to their construction.
  • And I Must Scream: time in virtuality can be elongated almost at will. Virtual pain feels very real. It's easy to program automated virtualities that'll repeat the same scenario over and over again. You do the maths.
    • Also subverted: people who die with their cortical chip intact feel some pain (or a lot of pain, as the case may be), but during the transition period - when the chip is not actively connected to a living body - they're essentially frozen unconscious.
  • Ancient Astronauts: Martians are said to have visited Earth centuries ago, but only spoke to the Whales.
  • Anti-Hero: Kovacs, big time. Type IV.
  • Badass: Kovacs, Trepp, Kadmin, Isaac Carrera, Virginia Vidaura and of course Quellcrist Falconer.
  • Badass Army: The Envoys
  • Becoming the Mask: Micky Serendipity.
  • Berserk Button: Don't go talking about religious aversion to re-sleeving to Takeshi Kovacs if you value your life. Also, a milder version occurs if you mispronounce his name as "kovaks" instead of slavic-style "kovach". If you do that, he won't like you. If he doesn't like you, he'll have much less restraint in doing nasty things to you.
  • Bio Augmentation: Combat and sport sleeves tend to be enhanced in all the ways you'd expect (like the ubiquitous neurachem.)
  • Blood Sport: Due to the ability to swap damaged bodies for new ones, several kinds of blood sport are now common entertainment.
  • Black and Gray Morality: Kovacs has a tendency to do horrible, horrible things to people who either get in his way or are associated with people who tried to do horrible things to him.
  • Body Backup Drive: Everyone is implanted with a cortical stack that essentially acts as a hard drive for the brain and allows people to be "resleeved" in a new body when they die. However most people can't afford to be resleeved more than once and unless they shell out a lot of cash they have to go through the whole aging process again. Many wealthy "Methuselahs" also have external storage that updates every couple days in case their stack is fried (like in the client from the first book's case).
  • Body Surf: Not so impossible in a world with Brain Uploading, although in most cases the body in question is already vacant - most probably because its previous owner is "on stack" - in mind prison.
  • Brain Uploading: The whole concept of the setting.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Common as dirt in all three books. Matthias Hand from Broken Angels is a surprisingly sympathetic example.
  • Crapsack World: Both Earth and Sanction IV would seem to qualify in different ways. Harlan's World is a crapsack swamp.
  • Cyberpunk: Its a tossup between this and Post Cyber Punk.
  • Da Chief: Isaac Carrera in the second book and Shigeo Kuramaya in Woken Furies.
  • Dead Person Conversation: when Kovacs is under severe stress, or lost deep in thought, he tends to hallucinate his long-dead friend Jimmy De Soto. Jimmy usually gives him some useful hunch, or the resolve he needs to break through the current problem.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: The world is pretty shitty but there are many people who are trying to better things
  • Energy Weapons: Several energy weapons exist, such as the 'Sunjet' rifle (which might be either plasma, or a particle beam, depending on the book).
  • Eye Scream: the protagonist has memories about a soldier mate of his who ripped out his eye with his own fingers during a hallucination caused by a mind virus.
    • In the first book, a micro-recorder is surgically implanted under an eye. The intended victim of the recording doesn't like the item's presence there, and her idea of surgical removal involves very little finesse and a pair of pliers.
  • Fantastic Slurs: "Meth," which refers to a very old person, is probably the most notable example.
  • Fantasy Counterpart Culture: Harlan's World = Japan mixed in with several Eastern European cultures (predominantly Slavic ones). Sharya = Islamic culture, particularly in its more militant forms. It's Shariat law enforced planet-wide, essentially.
  • Fate Worse Than Death: Thanks to the power of Brain Uploading and Virtual Environments, one can inflict a variety of virtual hells on someone you have captured, either to gain information, or sometimes just for kicks. See And I Must Scream above. In a world where bodies can be swapped, and therefore momentary pain is no longer the threat it used to be, being rendered insane and/or essentially brain-dead via endless torture is the one real fear everyone has.
    • Can be inflicted without the aid of virtual using a machine called the anatomiser. Co-opted medical equipment keeps you alive whilst slowly dismantling your body a layer at a time. It scans you to ensure it is constantly delivering maximum pain whilst minimisng risk of death. You can't even escape into unconsciousness; if it looks like you're about to pass out the machine pumps you full of stimulants and backs off just enough to keep you awake before continuing. The whole process lasts for days.
    • Explored in various ways in the third book - what really happens to the people struck by angelfire, or what Kovacs has thought up for the stacks of the priests he kills.
    • The Rawling virus corrupts digital information - it is shown to brutally annihilate an AI, and it can be used as a way of killing people equipped with stacks (which is only virtually EVERYBODY) through self-destructive insanity.
  • Final Death: "Real Death" or RD, when your stack is destroyed, erased or irreparably damaged. Less of a fear for those who have a Body Backup Drive somewhere, but these too can be destroyed with enough effort.
  • Full-Name Basis: When doing internal monologue, Kovacs tends to refer to most people (aside from those he grew up with, fought with or had sex with) by their full names almost exclusively.
  • Gender Bender: There is no rule preventing people from downloading their consciousness into bodies of the other sex. People commonly swap sexes in virtual, and it's heavily implied that those who can afford it have fun with this in real life. It's also used once for torture purposes; you can probably imagine how - and if you can't, you don't want to know.
    • In the first book Kovacs impersonates a woman by claiming to have been sleeved in a male body.
    • In the second, Kovacs jokingly questions whether Wardani is a man sleeved in a woman's body because of her actions during sex.
  • Generation Ships / Human Popsicle: How the Protectorate gets around when Needlecast isn't an option. It's hinted that several are still on route to distant stars, and that a number 'went wrong' on some planets, with messy results.
  • Genetic Memory: Only a very minor plot point, but still present.
    • Only in whales though
    • The third book explores the viability of weaponizing it.
  • Grand Theft Me: Not literally, but if you're "on stack" (which is futurespeak for being mentally jailed), someone might rent out - or buy out - your sleeve while you're not using it. You might have some problems getting it back if it was bought out, as several characters in the first book discover.
    • Also, invoked literally in the third book, with the theoretized Personality Bombs which would inject chunks of someone's stored personality into the stack of whoever's affected. They remain pure conspiracy theories, however, as Nadia Makita did not enter the mind of Sylvie Oshima that way.
  • He Who Must Not Be Seen: Elias Ryker. Frequently referenced, Ryker is currently "on stack"- imprisoned in a digital environment- for murder and fraud. In a unique twist, his body is actually present the whole time, it being the sleeve into which Kovacs' mind is implanted.
  • Hero Antagonist: Arguably, Isaac Carrera in the second novel. His motivations are more justifiable than Kovacs', at any rate.
  • Insufficiently Advanced Humans: Human development of FTL communications and significant colonization were pretty much all bootstrapped from what the Martians left behind. At least one character openly wonders whether or not humanity should even be out in the galaxy.
  • Invisible Aliens: No one knows where the Martians went, or why.
  • I Will Punish Your Friend for Your Failure: How Kawahara compels Kovacs to do as she asks, in regards to the Bancroft case.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Kovacs can be a serious jerk, and he'll beat, kill and torture into insanity anyone who goes against him. But underneath all the cynicism, the bloodthirstiness and the gruff manners he's essentially a good guy - as he so clearly shows in the ending of the first book, when he gives a family almost the entirety of his reward money, no strings attached, so they can re-sleeve their murdered daughter. "I wanted something clean to come from all of this", he explains to the disbelieving mother.
  • Kill Sat: Harlan's World has the Orbitals, large geostationary space platforms left by the aliens before they disappeared. They rain "angelfire" on every hi-tech device that gets above a certain fixed altitude. Nobody knows why they do this, but the only way to elude them is old tech - they won't shoot down centuries-old, gas-powered helicopters and such - though there have been exceptions in both directions.
  • Killed Off for Real: generally averted, as anyone who gets killed can later be resurrected. A few people, however, do end up very old-fashioned dead due to disintegration of the mind-recording chip, viral infection of the same, or a variety of other entertaining methods.
    • Takeshi Kovacs tends to inflict RD (that is, Real Death) on anyone who makes him mad enough, by physical destruction of the mind chips. He also uses it as a very effective way of showing his badassitude to people he needs to rattle into talking.
  • Kinetic Weapons Are Just Better: Energy weapons are outnumbered by kinetic weapons. In Broken Angels, Kovacs uses good old-fashioned bullet-firing guns to defeat hostile nanomachine colonies that had adapted to energy-based and sonic weaponry.
  • Knight in Sour Armour: Kovacs, although he masks it behind a Snark Knight persona. Kristan Ortega and the Organic Damage division of the Bay City Police seem to fulfill this role.
  • The Metaverse: Virtual environments, some with the option to have time sped up or slowed down relative to the amount of time passing outside.
  • Magnetic Weapons: Examples are mentioned, such as the Philips Thin Gun in 'Altered Carbon'.
  • Master of Your Domain: One of the skills that every Envoy possesses.
  • Me's a Crowd: Illegal, but that doesn't stop people from doing it. A bad guy does it because he takes "only trust in yourself" to its extremes, and Kovacs himself does it the first book to throw off the bad guys' attention. Happens again to Kovacs in the third book, but without his approval. Leads to a rather destructive Mirror Match.
  • Mildly Military: The De-Com crews have a somewhat ... loose command structure. Proven troops have a great deal of operational latitude.
  • Military Science Fiction: Broken Angels and, to a lesser extent, Woken Furies.
  • Multiethnic Name: Takeshi Kovacs himself. Almost everyone born on Harlan's World is subject to this to some extent, it being a melting pot of every remotely Oriental culture imaginable, though predominantly Japanese and Slavic.
  • Nanomachines: Including some weaponized versions
  • Oh Crap: Almost unnoticeable in the rollercoaster of events towards the second book's finale.

  "That other ship was not Martian."

  • Older Than They Look: Pretty much everyone who has been through a few sleeves.
  • Pay Evil Unto Evil: What Kovacs tends to do to people who mess with him or anyone he cares about. Essentially the basis for the entire trilogy - in between revenge and plain hatred, Kovacs pays a lot of evil on many evil people.
  • People Jars: Sleeves have to be kept somewhere when no one's using them, right?
  • Police Are Useless: If you have the right contacts you can get away with murder.
    • On the other hand, the unique setting makes murder a considerably less serious crime. Now murdering of the mind, on the other hand...
  • Powered Armor

 Hospital mob suits are designed and programmed to approximate normal human strength and motion while cushioning areas of trauma and ensuring that no part of the body is strained beyond its convalescent limits. In most cases the parameters are hardwired in to stop stupid little fucks from overriding what's good for them. Military custom doesn't work like that.

  • Precursors: The Martians who aren't actually from Mars.
  • Private Detective: Tak in the first book.
  • Private Eye Monologue: The entire first book is narrated this way.
  • Private Military Contractors: Carrera's Wedge in the second book. Mercenaries in general are pretty common in-universe.
  • Psychic Link: There's a drug called "empathin" that creates a Psychic Link between the user anyone in close proximity that also happens to be on the drug. It also leaves the user with a mean hangover.
    • One character has her sleeve bioengineered so she secretes an aphrodisiac, psychically-linking drug in her fluids when she's excited. The sexual experience deriving from that is highly addictive and quite mind-blowing - a non-envoy would most likely require many hours just to be able to reason properly after the hangover, let alone be productive.
  • Punch Clock Villain: Trepp in Altered Carbon is a pretty decent person who happens to work as an enforcer for a rather awful person. Kovacs acknowledges himself that they are Not So Different.
  • Really Seven Hundred Years Old: Both Bancrofts and most other "meths" (slang for very old people) are examples of this.
  • Robot War: The first third or so of Woken Furies is the small-scale mercenary equivalent of this. Sylvie's Slipins and the other De-Com crews are paid very well to keep the self-replicating/self-repairing war machines from escaping old battlefields.
  • Screw Yourself: Miriam Bancroft mentions that she'll sometimes downloads copies of her mind into cloned bodies to "play".
  • Shoplift and Die: Automated defense systems protecting business establishments are quite common. Anti-armor cannons used as the same aren't, but that doesn't stop the AI in the Hendrix hotel from using them anyway, with predictably messy results.
  • Sociopathic Soldier: A subversion. The Envoy corps looks for soldiers who have an almost oxymoronic combination of psychopathic and loyal tenancies. While Kovacs sometimes refers to feeling a joy when killing, it can be inferred that this was brought on Envoy conditioning and training. While Kovacs has no problem killing anyone who gets in his way, he also develops a distaste for war and will sometimes go out of his way to help (or at least not kill) someone.
  • Super Soldiers: The Envoy corps are mentally conditioned Badasses who are trained to destroy rebel governments in relatively small numbers. Ostensibly, anyone with combat training can be a super-soldier in the right sleeve.
  • Technology Marches On: Apparently, doing this in-universe is one of Morgan's favourite tropes. Weapons, viruses and sleeves that were cutting-edge in the first book are outdated by the third.
  • The Body Is A Plaything Of The Mind: Only in virtualities, however.
  • The Future Is Noir: the first book borrows noticeably from noir investigation dramas.
  • The Mind Is a Plaything of the Body: The first and third books explore how love and other forms of affection are mostly caused by (and therefore restricted to) specific sleeves, not the minds that inhabit them. Re-sleeving ruins (or, due to Grand Theft Me, incites) relationships because some bodies are apparently more compatible than others on a hormonal or pheromonal level. Discussed when Kovacs double-sleeves himself. The Ryker Kovacs is still attracted to Ortega. The Synth Kovacs... not so much.
  • Title Drop: Happens multiple times in common speech in the first and third books, and only a few in the second.
  • Training From Hell: Physical training is made practically irrelevant by the various chems and synthetic improvements one can have for his sleeve, but mental training is incredibly important for the Envoys. Kovacs' mental training has made him such an incredible Badass that he shrugs off torture sessions that would leave any normal person scarred for life and/or insane beyond any hope of cure.
  • Weak but Skilled: Kovacs' fight with Kadmin. While Kovacs' is sleeved in the body of a middle-aged chain-smoking cop, Kadmin has an enormously strong and fast Hand of God 'freak fighter' sleeve. Kovacs still loses but gives an excellent accounting of himself.
    • Also describes Kovacs in Broken Angels as his sleeve, which wasn't in particularly good shape at the start of the book, is slowly dying of radiation poisoning. Because of this, Kovacs becomes up effectively immobile if not for the hospital mob suits and drugs, and yet he manages to wipe out Carrera and his army.
  • What Could Possibly Go Wrong?: Weaponized semisentient nanomachine colony that can basically fight everything that's thrown at it and adapt to what it can't fight. The inventors are actually surprised that it goes haywire.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Kovacs' employers and associates, typically no shrinking violets themselves, often express shock or astonishment at the number of people Kovacs kills or maims in each novel.
  • Who Wants to Live Forever?: Examined. Everyone gets fitted with a cortical stack at birth and they're pretty difficult to destroy, so barring severe misfortune or deliberate attack there's the opportunity to live more or less indefinitely. Most people don't, though, either because they can't afford to get a new sleeve, don't want to go through the aging process more than two or three times, or just get bored of life. People that choose to keep going year after year are widely considered to have a screw loose, although since they are wealthy as a rule and have had lifetimes to accumulate power and influence they tend not to care what the little folks think about them.
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