• The Good: Pure pulp in a dark and gritty scifi mystery package
  • The Bad: Hyper-violent and hyper-sexual, which may not be your thing
  • The Literary: Great use of the fish-out-of-water trope; exploration of the moral and social implications of separating mind from body

Ex-envoy convict Takeshi Kovacs awakens in a new body, which doesn’t surprise him, as it’s normal for human consciousness to be digitally transported between the stars by way of cortical stacks. He is surprised that he wakes up on Earth in the body of an thug cop and is presented with a catch-22 offer by a powerful billionaire.

I really like this noir, post-cyperpunk detective drama. It’s pure pulpy, fast-paced entertainment, complete with ultra-violence and racy sex (that doesn’t always advance the plot). Kovacs is hired to solve the mystery of one man’s death, but no one wants to talk.

In addition to all the fun violence, sex, and drugs, I really appreciate that this story thoroughly explores the nuances of being able to switch bodies, asking questions about where the mind-body connections overlap. Our bodies drive action through more than temperature, hunger, and sleep; and when Kovacs wakes up in Ryker’s body, he’s addicted to cigarettes and has a strong sexual connection to Ryker’s former partner.

When your body is less yours, it becomes more of a toy, something to take on and off, or at least something to be manipulated with drugs, alcohol, desire, or abuse. Kovacs doesn’t shy away from drug-enhanced situations. At some point he’s captured by a rival faction, put into a new body, and tortured. There’s pleasure and pain; there’s death and there’s real death.

This is also a story about class, and I love that not only do the rich get richer because they can afford to live longer, they essentially become immortal, with frequent backups of their consciousness ready to be downloaded into well-kept clones. This ultra-privileged class are called Meths, or Methusalehs. With the ability to buy the best bodies and switch corporeal fashions over the course of centuries, the daily lives of regular people become small and insignificant.

If a member of the working class falls into debt, their last option may be to shelf their cortical stack until their family can pay off their debts, with the eventual hope of purchasing them another body, or at least a digital condo. For most people, entire generations of their family exist on a shelf somewhere, the potential of a second life diminishing as they are forgotten by their descendants.

If you’re on the fence on this one, check out the television series, which is surprisingly accurate to the book in both tone and plot. Highly recommended for fans of dark and gritty genre fiction!