Altered Carbon launches in a couple of days and, like many fans of cyberpunk, I’m pretty excited.
Whenever a show you’re excited about is about to hit it’s a nervy time. It’s hard not to worry about whether or not the show will live up to expectations.
With that in mind, here are my hopes for Altered Carbon.
That it’s in keeping with the rawness of the book
If I had to pick out one aspect of Altered Carbon that sets it apart from other cyberpunk works, it would be its pure guttural rawness. Takeshi Kovacs isn’t simply the jaded private eye. He is a force of nature, a simmering ball of anger ready to explode into acts of extreme violence at any time.
A sociopath by inclination and a psychopath by training. He describes himself as a ‘different species’ from common soldiers, simply because he is more capable of harming others without a second thought.
For this reason I hope, probably vainly, that his fighting style is not too acrobatic. In the novel, he was an efficient and brutal fighter, not a flashy one.
The novel jumps into life after the infamous virtual torture scene with the quote below. Reading this quote I got a glimpse into where Kovacs was from, and what drove him on. It’s an element I hope remains in the show:
“The personal, as everyone’s so fucking fond of saying, is political. So if some idiot politician, some power player, tries to execute policies that harm you or those you care about, take it personally. Get angry. The Machinery of Justice will not serve you here – it is slow and cold, and it is theirs, hardware and soft-. Only the little people suffer at the hands of Justice; the creatures of power slide from under it with a wink and a grin. If you want justice, you will have to claw it from them”
That it’s not too similar to Blade Runner
Altered Carbon has been described as Netflix’s Blade Runner and it’s easy to see why. Both have flying cars that whizz around grimey neon streets. Both are gritty cyberpunk noirs and both tackle themes of identity.
Yet Altered Carbon has the potential to be so much more than an homage to Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049. Altered Carbon has enough visual quirks and markers to create a world distinct from that of Blade Runner. There is different tech and the novel describes some fascinating architecture that should be put on screen.
There also better be a massive ship that’s run aground in there or I’ll be angry!
The plot is simplified, not dumbed down
Cyberpunk has a tendency to produce somewhat convoluted plots. It’s part of its charm. Altered Carbon is no different. Characters pop in and out of the story wearing different bodies. There are plot twists upon plot twists and themes built around themes.
In short: Richard Morgan does not try and make things easy for his reader. The Netflix series will have to make some of this easier to digest than the book does.
The challenge for the writers of Altered Carbon is to keep the plot simple without making it stupid. It’s not an easy thing to do, but it’s critical to the success of the show.
Altered Carbon is more than just a futuristic noir. It’s a meditation on what happens to our morals when death is no longer inevitable and when our consciousness can be separated from our body. The TV show needs to reflect that.
That it leads to more cyberpunk adaptations
There is a lot riding on this show for me. Cyberpunk is one of my favourite genres. But, outside of the Blade Runner movies, there have been very few shows or movies that have done it justice.
Perhaps it’s because most cyberpunk novels are sprawling complex beasts that are tough to film. Perhaps it’s because the world hasn’t yet run out of superheros to put onto the big and little screen. Whatever the reason, we’re yet to see good adaptations of works like Snow Crash or Neuromancer.
If it’s good, maybe Altered Carbon will change that.