This book will bend your mind in ways that make Olympic-level gymnasts look positively rigid. In a good way, I promise. In Altered Carbon, Morgan presents to us a world in which bodies are just another change of clothes and the human soul is trapped in a small black box at the base of your neck. Capital punishment has almost been eradicated, replaced by a method of punishment where prisoners are basically put on sleep mode, taken out of their bodies and stored in a virtual prison for, oh, maybe two hundred, three hundred years.
That's where we catch up with our hero, pseudo-super-sleuth Takeshi Kovacs. He comes out of his sentence a little early, having been "hired" by a recently deceased man (after his revival, no big deal) to solve his murder. Kovacs' training in the Envoy Corps has made him especially suited to making the intuitive leaps required for detective work, and his history (and reasons for leaving the Corps) are explored throughout the novel.
The characters in Carbon are straight-up noir, from hard-boiled Kovacs to the just-about-renegade cop to the hooker with the cybernetic heart of gold. Morgan takes the relationships between these characters and warps them around his central conceit, hitting some solid themes like the idea of strength of purely physical vs. mental/emotional experience.
Morgan's prose brings these characters into vivid, gritty life, whether caught up by introspection or spitting epithets from air cabs. His writing also perfectly treads that fine balance between head-scratching confusion and information overload. Too many books will leave you clueless to the end and suddenly expect you to absorb a Thanksgiving dinner's worth of plot twists, but Morgan trickles it out in bread crumbs. You always feel like the characters know just a little bit more than you, but the prose pulls you along because you know you're just about to find out.
This is one of the most satisfying books I've read in a while. It's got a crunchy noir at its core all decked out in the trappings of some pretty heavy thought-provoking tech. Plus, space guns and science!