I’ll admit right off that I have not read the series this show is based upon, and so had absolutely no preexisting expectations beyond being entertained. And entertained I was! The story presents as a futuristic murder mystery, but frankly, I didn’t give a darn about the murder bit, the world was fascinating. Someone had invented a device called a cortical stack, which recorded everything about the individual – personality, experiences, thoughts, emotions, everything. And these stacks could be transferred fairly easily from one body to another.
To me, Altered Carbon is a study in what might happen to a society when human bodies, or as they are called in the show, sleeves, are essentially disposable, and all that really matters is preserving the ‘stack’. Of course, one must be able to afford being transferred into a new sleeve, so the accumulation of money becomes even more important than before. Wealth can literally guarantee living as long as one wishes to, and the extremely rich can grow clones of themselves, guaranteeing an endless supply of young, healthy bodies.
Our current wealth inequality is as nothing compared to this story. And the degradation of common decency reminds me of a decades old psychological study in which participants were separated into two groups – inmates, and guards. The guards, surprisingly quickly, became so cruel, and the inmates so traumatized, that the study had to be halted much sooner than intended. The brutality of may individuals in Altered Carbon is disturbing, and yet not the least surprising, given that sleeves, and poor people, are of little value.
On the fun side, I absolutely loved the acting opportunities that the regular body swapping allowed for. I particularly enjoyed the huge, heavily tattooed sleeve being rented for the deceased grandmother of one of the main characters. The next time you see the same actor, he has the stack of a nasty thug.
Another fun stack switching scene happens when a woman’s daughter borrows one of her mother’s clones. The main character walks in on her, and immediately recognizes that the woman engaging in an artless quicky is not the same sophisticated lover he encountered just days before. That scene also gives the first clue that all is not necessarily well in a family in which the parents never grow old, and the children are never truly allowed to grow up.
My favorite character is Poe, the AI manager of a hotel named The Raven. I think his character grows the most, going from a mere hotel manager to a trusted and critical ally.
There are, of course, plots and sub-plots, but to go into those would provide spoilers. If you have not read the book, or don’t mind a show deviating from the source material, and enjoy original sci-fi ideas, I recommend you give Altered Carbon a try. I’m glad that I did.