Altered Carbon

I didn't think much of this series, but I do have a few things to say about it...

First of all, the Raven Hotel was awesome, a great sidekick, and the best character in the story. And also the only character I was even slightly sympathetic toward. I want to watch a show that is just about Overly Attached Hotel Boyfriend. Maybe with Oswald Cobblepot as the bartender. (I understand that in the book, the hotel was Hendrix instead of Poe. That sounds dumb.)

So that was my favorite part. Moving on:

(And by the way, I never read the book, because from the way people talked about it I assumed it was going to be to Neuromancer what Sword of Shannara was to Lord of the Rings. So I'm not comparing the two.)

Ok, so you've been asleep for three hundred years, you wake up, and literally the only thing that has changed is that you need to update your ad blocker settings!

Now, I can imagine how, in this world, maybe the fact that there are a hundred immortal billionaires who control the world while everyone else lives in poverty might have had the effect of completely halting all advancement in technology, and even all changes in fashion. But if that's the case then that's what your story is about and you need to at least address it!

Come on!

Next, the way they do "prison" in this story didn't make sense when they did it in Demolition Man and it doesn't make sense here. You've sentenced a killer to hundreds of years in jail, but for them no subjective time passes! There are only two things prison can nominally be for: punishment or rehabilitation. This is neither. It's not even exile, because remember, the people who put him in prison are immortal.

Also this was not eight episodes of story. So much padding. Almost the entire last episode could have been cut. Guys, if you only have four hours of story, that's ok.

Dichen Lachman is great, but I still didn't give a crap about her character, and the "big reveal" of who the villain was had no mystery to it. They set up the show as a detective story or a mystery and then there was no detecting, or mystery.

A trenchcoat is not a detective.

Graphic design is not worldbuilding.

Then they popped a Max Headroom cameo on us. Ok, ok, yes, I was all-in on that. You showed me the thing and I recognized the thing. I am not immune to nostalgia.

But then!

Instead of streaming it from Netflix, I downloaded torrents of this show, and one of the side-effects of that is that my only option for subtitles was all-or-nothing: the files I had didn't have a track for "only subtitle the scenes that are not in English", of which there are quite a few. So I ended up watching it with subtitles on all the time (which I always find distracting and annoying, because I read ahead of the voices). And that resulted in this...

There's a big dumb cyber-ninja fight scene, and the music over it is a cover of White Zombie's 1995 hit, More Human Than Human. And it was subtitled. So I'm pulled completely out of the story, such as it is, because I'm watching cyber-ninjas fight while I'm reading the lyrics to a twenty-three year old song referencing Blade Runner, which was already thirteen years old when the original song came out -- in a TV show that owes literally absolutely everything to Blade Runner and Neuromancer.

It's almost enough to remind you that this show, based on a sixteen year old book, is a re-tread of ideas that were done better almost four decades ago.

And as the rat's milk returns to the sewer, the cycle of life is complete.

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12 Responses:

  1. Errant Wanderer says:


    "Ok, so you've been asleep for three hundred years, you wake up, and literally the only thing that has changed is that you need to update your ad blocker settings!"

  2. Doctor Memory says:

    I gave up after twenty minutes. I'm sure I'll go back at some point when I've got nothing better to do, but it's been a long time since I was this bored by something that was apparently committee-tuned to the aesthetic interests of 22-year-old me.

    (The book has its moments, but it's aged pretty poorly and should have had the subtitle "A First Novel Written In Hopes of Getting Optioned". It adds a slavish imitation of Dashiell Hammett to Blade Runner and Neuromancer as its influences and that's...pretty much it. The third book attempts to go back and fix everything and by that point he's a better writer so it's nearly readable, but the silliness of a lot of the premise isn't really fixable.)

  3. Jenni Bot says:

    In the book I really enjoyed the Hendrix hotel character, but it only appeared to Kovacs anthropomorphically once in the entire book. The rest of the time it was a disembodied voice in his room or his cyberpunk tech, which makes for terrible TV.

  4. Jim Sweeney says:

    Omg, this review made my day. :D

  5. Thanks for the overview. I’ll never watch it.

  6. Sam says:

    I read more than one review of Altered Carbon that didn’t mention Blade Runner at all, and I just couldn’t get past the confusion of “so you’re not going to mention this big elephant in the room here?"

  7. ian says:

    Interesting. Thanks! I thought the book wasn't that great (for similar reasons) so I wasn't crazy about the show...

  8. Leonardo Herrera says:

    Bah, I loved it. It's a bless being so simple sometimes.

    And this is more Blade Runner than Blade Runner 2049.

  9. They made a lot of questionable changes from the book, like the main villian isn't his sister, and the rebel leader wasn't a contemporary of his - they'd never met. I think both changes were a poor choice. Also way too much nudity - it was beyond what was needed for plot tits.

    That said, I also very much liked the hotel and the actor who played it, and the actor they chose for Kristin Ortega. I'd like it if they did the other books in the Kovacs series.

  10. George Dorn says:

    There is a decent story under the spectacle and it explores some interesting and somewhat original sci-fi what-ifs. I suspect if they weren't trying so hard to shoehorn the Blade Runner aesthetic into a production that couldn't live up to it, it would have been better received.

    A fan edit to even out the tone and cut it down to half the length could drastically improve it.

  11. nooj says:

    I'm beginning to think the show is an excuse to showcase new actors' abilities to play different (or the same) characters.

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