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Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Review: Netflix's Altered Carbon

To say that I'm a fan of Richard K Morgan is an understatement. I've bought and read everything in the Takeshi Kovacs series, including Altered Carbon. I'm not usually a fan of TV, however, so when I heard that Netflix adapted it into a TV Series, I didn't even think about using my free trial. Then some idiot signed up for Netflix using my e-mail address, essentially deciding to turn on my free trial for me.

OK, so I started watching it to see if it was any good. I'm not going to hold back from spoilers, because that's the only way a fan of the book can properly review the TV series. The big change is that Reileen Kawahara got changed from being the big bad to Kovacs' sister. That's probably done to heighten drama, but doesn't make any sense: the series depicts Kovacs going from CTAC conditioned soldier to shooting down members of his own squad, and then asks us to believe that he would RD (real death) his own sister. The actor portraying Ryker's sleeve simply wasn't good enough to convince us that Kovacs would do this.

Other changes: the Envoy training is changed from being part of the protectorate to being part of a Quellist uprising. This is of course unbelievable in and of itself, so Quell herself becomes the inventor of the sleeving technology. They also weakened the Envoy conditioning.

The latter is the worst part of the conversion in the TV series. In the novel, Kovacs is smart, and figures everything out. In the TV series, he's a reactive person who only figures anything out when he has it shoved in front of his face and it's so obvious even the dumbest person in the audience can understand it.

There are lots of tonal changes. For instance, the book is actually much more brutal and violent than the TV series (I know: if you've seen the TV series, you wonder how it could actually be worse, but the interrogation at the Wei clinic is one major example --- in the book Kovacs is sleeved into a woman's body so that the torture would be more effective, something that probably wouldn't be acceptable when shown to a mass audience). That's understandable and I'm quite OK with it.

All in all, the TV series could be seen as quite good if you haven't read the book. If you have a choice, however, read the book first. If you've already seen the TV series, go read the book. I re-read it for this review and it's a different experience and significantly better. Morgan manages to restyle Raymond Chandler for a more cynical world, and brings a unique stamp on it that's compelling reading. It might be a great mindless read, but if you pay attention, it's got much deeper themes in it that's worth your attention as well.

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