Get to the Next Screen

altered carbon

 

What does society look like if your consciousness can be saved to a device and installed into a new body making death theoretically impossible? While this sounds like the plot of an episode of Black Mirror, it’s actually the main conceit of Altered Carbon, published in 2006 (and adapted into a series on Netflix this year). At birth, every human has a cortical stack implanted at the base of the skull that contains their consciousness. Only the destruction of the stack results in what’s known as Real Death. It’s in this world that we meet Takeshi Kovacs, a former elite soldier who has fallen on the wrong side of the law. Kovacs’ stack has been put on ice which is what now serves as a prison sentence in the 25th century. He is brought to earth and put into a new body by Laurens Bancroft, an ultra rich business man who wants Takeshi to solve his own murder. The police have written it off as a suicide and are unwilling to put any more time and effort into investigating the “death” of a man who can never really die. The ultra-rich are able to have their consciousnesses backed up to a secure facility every day or two, so that even if their stack is destroyed, they still live. Death is no longer the great equalizer.

Takeshi’s investigation takes him through all levels of society and naturally, nothing goes smoothly. There are twists and turns and sex and violence throughout this hard boiled cyberpunk detective novel. I’m not even halfway through the Netflix adaptation so I can’t tell you how how true to the source material it is, but the book follows in the footsteps of cyberpunk authors like William Gibson.

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“The Sky is Falling. Life is Apalling”

the obelisk gate

Reading this book was a bit of a chore. Not because N.K. Jemison’s work isn’t amazing, but because I checked it out as an ebook from my library, not realizing that I couldn’t renew it if other people had it on hold and it would be automatically returned before I could finish it. I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as I did its predecessor, The Fifth Season, but it is still an intense read that gives us a deeper understanding of Essun, the main protagonist along with her allies in the underground city of Castrima. It also adds the point of view of Nassun, Essun’s daughter who it was believed was lost or killed in the Season that started at the beginning of the first book.

The action does slow quite a bit in this second installment of The Broken Earth trilogy. Essun spends the entire book learning to navigate her new surroundings in the city of Castrima, which is unique not only in the fact that it exists underground using ancient technology but because it contains Orogenes and Stills (non-Orogenes) living side by side in relative peace. She also must deal with her former lover Alabaster, who was revealed to be alive at the end of the previous book. Nassun’s story fills us in on where she was at the start of The Fifth Season and catches us up until both mother and daughters stories are on the same timeline. We see her come upon her father, Jija, after he has just beaten her younger brother to death after discovering that he is an Orogene. Much of the emotional impact that was contained in the first book is to be found in Nassun’s chapters. Though we understand her motivations, it is frustrating to watch this young girl try to maintain her father’s extremely conditional love. She also unwittingly allies herself with an old nemesis of her mother’s.

Though it may not have the action of the first book, we learn so much more about the characters who inhabit the world of The Broken Earth trilogy and see the setup for what promises to be a stunning finish in The Stone Sky.

And the worms ate into his brain

surfacing

I would have liked to read this book over a day or two without interruption so that I could immerse myself in it. Reading it in fits and starts while I was on hold at work (I have the Kindle app downloaded to my desktop) and before bed it at night really didn’t allow me to feel the growing feeling of unease and dissociation that Margaret Atwood’s book conveys. Though I wouldn’t call it my favorite work by Ms. Atwood (Cat’s Eye wins that hands down), it’s a thought provoking short novel.

Surfacing follows a nameless protagonist as she returns to her childhood home on an isolated island in Quebec after the mysterious disappearance of her father. Though very little as far as action happens in the novel, the woman’s experience of suddenly being immersed in a a past that she fled from slowly drives her into delusion and madness. Many of the themes, such as not fitting in with your childhood world or your current one and the societal expectations put on women, I found very relatable. I must confess that running theme of Canadian independence was beyond me.

Surfacing is one woman’s story of leaving home because she did not fit in, only to find the new life that she’s constructed is equally foreign to her. She confesses that she does not love Joe, the man she lives with, and that her career is something she fell into. Though most of us aren’t driven mad by alienation, most of us can relate to it.