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wealhtheow

wealhtheow

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The Theory of the Leisure Class (Modern Library Classics)
Thorstein Veblen, Alan Wolfe
Altered Carbon - Richard K. Morgan Takeshi Kovacs, formerly an Envoy and currently a convicted criminal, is transported to Earth to solve a mystery for the unbelievably rich and powerful Bancroft. All the physical evidence shows that Bancroft committed suicide, but Bancroft is sure he'd never kill himself. The police refuse to investigate further, so Kovacs is hired onto the case.

Morgan takes the tropes of hard-boiled detective fiction and cyberpunk and mixes them together into something exhilarating and novel. The twists and turns of the plots are great, but what really makes me crow about this book is the universe-building. AIs have rights; the hotel AI that Kovacs stays in is People's consciousnesses can be stored and even transferred into new bodies. A great idea, but Morgan is wise enough to see how this kind of technology could easily widen existing disparities. The rich and powerful are well-nigh immortal and can travel between planets practically instantaneously (by sleeving themselves in a body already in whatever place they want to travel to) while the poor are often just one accident or criminal charge away from having their body taken and used. On Kovacs's world, one reaction to these kinds of huge, insurmountable inequalities is a terrorist movement/philosophy based around the words and deeds of a woman named Quell. A few samples: "The human eye is a wonderful device. With a little effort, it can fail to see even the most glaring injustice."--Poems and Other Prevarications. Or "Her name was Iphigenia Deme, Iffy to those of her friends who had not yet been slaughtered by Protectorate Forces. Her last words, strapped to the interrogation table downstairs at Number Eighteen, Shimatsu Boulevard, are reputed to have been: 'That's fucking enough!' The explosion brought the entire building down." Or my personal favorite, spoken by Quell herself: "When they ask how I died, tell them: Still Angry."

The book is often brutal--Kovacs endures and delivers horrifying violence and mayhem. But there's a commitment to the idea of individual autonomy and dignity behind it, and an understanding of the ways class/race/religion etc are used as tools to maintain existing power structures, that I really respect. When Kovacs finally uncovers the mystery behind Bancroft's death, he explains it all a little too info-dumpy, but it's an easy mistake to make. I love the thoughtful way Morgan has created the universe, the odd little details (like Kovacs's sentient hotel, desperate for guests) and overarcing themes of it. I really like Kovacs himself, and I look forward to reading more stories about him.