Altered Carbon

By: Richard Morgan


There is a vast distance between deciding to write a first novel and actually seeing it published, and the journey across this distance can be emotionally brutal. It comes with loneliness attached, but at the same time requires a massive faith in what you’re doing that is hard to sustain alone. I was only able to complete this journey thanks to a number of people along the way, who lent me their faith when my own was running very low. Since the technology imagined in Altered Carbon doesn’t exist yet, I’d better get on and thank these travelling companions while I can, because without their support, I’m pretty certain Altered Carbon itself would not exist either.

In order of appearance, then:

Thanks to Margaret and John Morgan for putting together the original organic material, to Caroline (Dit-Dah) Morgan for enthusiasm from before she could speak, to Gavin Burgess for friendship when often neither of us were in any condition to speak, to Alan Young for depths of unconditional commitment there isn’t any way to speak, and to Virginia Cottinelli for giving me her twenties when I’d almost used mine up. Then, the light at the end of a very long tunnel, thanks to my agent Carolyn Whitaker for considering drafts of Altered Carbon not once, but twice, and to Simon Spanton at Gollancz for being the man to finally make it happen.

May the road always rise to meet you,

May the wind be always at your back

This book is for

my father and mother:


for his iron endurance and

unflagging generosity of spirit

in the face of adversity



for the — white hot rage

that dwells in compassion and

a refusal to turn away


Two hours before dawn I sat in the peeling kitchen and smoked one of Sarah’s cigarettes, listening to the maelstrom and waiting. Millsport had long since put itself to bed, but out in the Reach currents were still snagging on the shoals, and the sound came ashore to prowl the empty streets. There was a fine mist drifting in from the whirlpool, falling on the city like sheets of muslin and fogging the kitchen windows.

Chemically alert, I inventoried the hardware on the scarred wooden table for the fiftieth time that night. Sarah’s Heckler & Koch shard pistol glinted dully at me in the low light, the butt gaping open for its clip. It was an assassin’s weapon, compact and utterly silent. The magazines lay next to it. She had wrapped insulating tape around each one to distinguish the ammunition; green for sleep, black for the spider venom load. Most of the clips were black-wrapped. Sarah had used up a lot of green on the security guards at Gemini Biosys the previous night.

My own contributions were less subtle. The big silver Smith & Wesson, and the four remaining hallucinogen grenades. The thin crimson line around each canister seemed to sparkle slightly, as if it were about to detach itself from the metal casing and float up to join the curlicues of smoke ribboning off my cigarette. Shift and slide of altered significants, the side effect of the tetrameth I’d scored that afternoon down at the wharf. I don’t usually smoke when I’m straight, but for some reason the tet always triggers the urge.

Against the distant roar of the maelstrom I heard it. The hurrying strop of rotorblades on the fabric of the night.

I stubbed out the cigarette, mildly unimpressed with myself, and went through to the bedroom. Sarah was sleeping, an assembly of low-frequency sine curves beneath the single sheet. A raven sweep of hair covered her face and one long-fingered hand trailed over the side of the bed. As I stood looking at her the night outside split. One of Harlan’s World’s orbital guardians test-firing into the Reach. Thunder from the concussed sky rolled in to rattle the windows. The woman in the bed stirred and swept the hair out of her eyes. The liquid crystal gaze found me and locked on.

“What’re you looking at?” voice husky with the residue of sleep.

I smiled a little.

“Don’t give me that shit. Tell me what you’re looking at.”

“Just looking. It’s time to go.”

She lifted her head and picked up the sound of the helicopter. The sleep slid away from her face and she sat up in bed.

“Where’s the ‘ware?”

It was a Corps joke. I smiled, the way you do when you see an old friend, and pointed to the case in the corner of the room.

“Get my gun for me.”

“Yes ma’am. Black or green?”

“Black. I trust these scumbags about as far as a clingfilm condom.”

In the kitchen, I loaded up the shard pistol, cast a glance at my own weapon and left it lying there. Instead, I scooped up one of the H grenades and took it back in my other hand. I paused in the doorway to the bedroom and weighed the two pieces of hardware in each palm as if I was trying to decide which was the heavier.

“A little something with your phallic substitute, ma’am?”

Sarah looked up from beneath the hanging sickle of black hair over her forehead. She was in the midst of pulling a pair of long woollen socks up over the sheen of her thighs.

“Yours is the one with the long barrel, Tak.”

“Size isn’t—”

We both heard it at the same time. A metallic double clack from the corridor outside. Our eyes met across the room and for a quarter second I saw my own shock mirrored there. Then I was tossing the loaded shard gun to her. She put up one hand and took it out of the air just as the whole of the bedroom wall caved in in thunder. The blast knocked me back into a corner and onto the floor.

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