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.