The Takeshi Kovacs series (also called the Altered Carbon series, after the first book) is a Cyberpunk trilogy by British writer Richard K. Morgan.The series takes place some 500 years into the future, in the UN Protectorate, a totalitarian government spread over several different planets that enforces its rule with the use of 'Envoys'; mentally-conditioned Shock Troopers who specialise in covert deployment and bringing down rebel governments.In the series Mars has been discovered to have once been part of a galaxy-spanning alien civilisation, which collapsed for reasons unknown millennia ago.All three books follow the Sociopathic Hero Takeshi Kovacs, an ex-Envoy turned criminal/mercenary/bodyguard/detective, who uses his talents for problem solving coupled with insane violence to earn a buck. Takeshi is not without his psychological problems, however, many of them received in service with the Envoys and a fair few picked up afterwards.The first book, Altered Carbon, sees Kovacs brought out of digitised storage (used as punishment for crimes) and sent to Earth to work as a private detective for a super-wealthy 'Meth' (from 'Methuselah'); someone rich and powerful enough to afford to live for several lifetimes, repeatedly downloading themselves into fresh bodies. The Meth; Laurens Bancroft, has recently returned from the dead (thanks to a personality backup) after an apparent suicide, but maintains that he would never kill himself. Due to the backup schedule he is missing the 48 hours prior to his death. He hires Kovacs to find out who killed him and why.The second book, Broken Angels, is a war story set on the planet Sanction IV. Kovacs is now serving in a mercenary unit fighting for the UN against the native rebels of the planet, when he encounters a pilot named Jan Schneider, who is looking for protection for an expedition to exploit a Martian artifact discovered just before the war broke out. Kovacs helps Schneider break out the archeologist who led the initial expedition from a POW camp, and the trio them embark on a mission to find a corporate sponsor to finance their mission.The third book, Woken Furies, finds Kovacs back on his homeworld of Harlan's World, a largely aquatic planet colonised by Japanese and Slavs. The book begins as a Roaring Rampage of Revenge as Kovacs hunts down members of a Church who sentenced a former partner of his to death, but he soon becomes involved in a growing revolutionary plot to overthrow the UN-backed government.
This series provides examples of:
A-Cup Angst: Mari Ado from Woken Furies. Kovacs notes that her bust isn't actually that small; she just has a complex about it.
Accent Relapse: Reileen Kawahara spends most of Altered Carbon speaking in a very formal, cultured accent in order to project an air of respectability. When she's under great stress and her facade cracks, however, she reverts to speaking in a vulgar Fission City accent.
Action Bomb: People can be fitted with internal explosives, allowing them to explode at will (Though there is a significant risk of accidental detonation). There are also examples where the explosives are set to go off upon the user's death.
A.I. Is a Crapshoot: Thoroughly averted. Without exception, in all three books, the artificial intelligences we encounter serve their intended functions perfectly, though some are into some disturbingly illegal activities.
The mimints (military machine intelligences) were originally weapons of war, but got out of control and became independent. possibly subverted, if Sylvie Oshima's statement was correct. Oshima believed that Orbitals placed the stored consciousness of humans killed by angelfire within the mimints. If this true, they aren't even AI's.
The Alcatraz: Rila Crags, the prison where Sylvie is taken in Woken Furies. Only one person has ever broken in, Nikolai Natsume, so the Little Blue Bugs seek his advice for their rescue attempt. They still end up getting caught on the way in; however, it was actually just a diversion for their real plan.
Alien Geometries: Anything the Martians have built tends to have a negative effect on the mental well-being of people exposed to it for long unless they have some sort of appropriate conditioning. It is less a problem of violating the laws of physics and more simply because they are literally alien geometries, as the Martians were avian and followed a different logic to their construction.
And I Must Scream: Virtual pain feels just as awful as real pain, and since time in-virtual can be elongated at will there's nothing stopping you from hooking up someone to a virtual torture chamber, setting it on full speed and just... forgetting about it. The subject will be tortured in the most painful ways imaginable to within an inch of their life, at which point the whole thing resets. Notably this doesn't reset the memories, just the virtual body - so it can go through it again, and again, and again. It takes someone with extensive training and an iron will - i.e. Kovacs - to resist this even in small doses. Eventually, it will all but destroy the mind of the subject.
Ancient Astronauts: Martians are said to have visited Earth centuries ago, but only spoke to the Whales.
Berserk Button: Don't go talking about religious aversion to re-sleeving to Takeshi Kovacs if you value your life. Also, a milder version occurs if you mispronounce his name as "kovaks" instead of the original Hungarian "kovach". If you do that, he won't like you. If he doesn't like you, he'll have much less restraint in doing nasty things to you.
In general he goes nuts whenever someone abuses or takes advantage of women. Surprise, it's all about his abusive father
Black and Gray Morality: Kovacs has a tendency to do horrible, horrible things to people who either get in his way or are associated with people who tried to do horrible things to him.
Blood Sport: Due to the ability to swap damaged bodies for new ones, several kinds of blood sport are now common entertainment.
Body Backup Drive: Everyone is implanted with a cortical stack that essentially acts as a hard drive for the brain and allows people to be "resleeved" in a new body when they die. However most people can't afford to be resleeved more than once and unless they shell out a lot of cash they have to go through the whole aging process again. Many wealthy "Methuselahs" also have external storage that updates every couple days in case their stack is fried (like in the client from the first book's case).
Body Surf: Not so impossible in a world with Brain Uploading, although in most cases the body in question is already vacant - most probably because its previous owner is "on stack" - in mind prison.
Corrupt Corporate Executive: Common as dirt in all three books. Matthias Hand from Broken Angels is a surprisingly sympathetic example.
Crapsack World: Both Earth and Sanction IV would seem to qualify in different ways. Harlan's World is a crapsack swamp.
Cryo Prison: Not only frozen, their brain is uploaded and stored separately. Earth's super-rich have a habit of buying the frozen bodies and using them for their own amusement. Kovacs notes that Envoys are similarly stored between deployments, so they're used to the worst most planets' justice systems can do to them.
Da Chief: Isaac Carrera in the second book and Shigeo Kuramaya in Woken Furies.
Dead Person Conversation: When Kovacs is under severe stress, or lost deep in thought, he tends to hallucinate his long-dead friend Jimmy De Soto. Jimmy usually gives him some useful hunch, or the resolve he needs to break through the current problem.
Disappeared Dad: As alluded to in the earlier books and fully expounded upon in "Woken Furies," most of Kovacs' rage stems from his father abandoning the family and repeatedly abusing his mother
Driven to Suicide: The police in the first book are convinced Laurens Bancroft's prior incarnation vaporized himself, his backup believes his will to live would be too strong for that. It turns out he did do it, his wife and a rival conspired to make him accidentally kill a Catholic prostitute, and he knew his backup would have none of the guilt if he acted quickly.
You could argue this is where things stand at the end of "Woken Furies." Sure, Kovacs has killed hundreds or thousands of people or more, depending on who you blame for the destruction of Sauberville in "Broken Angels", including several of his oldest friends, and lost the only woman he loved, but he's also killed several of his mortal enemies, found a fleet of Martian (and unknown alien) ships, helped resurrect a legendary revolutionary figure and through her perhaps figured out how to communicate with AI systems the Martians left behind (and maybe uploaded Martians themselves. So things could be worse.
Earth That Used to Be Better: It's the capital of the UN Protectorate, but general opinion off-world is that it's a shithole. At one point Kovacs flashes back to Jimmy De Soto, who was from Earth, advising him never to go there.
The protagonist has memories about a soldier mate of his who ripped out his eye with his own fingers during a hallucination caused by a mind virus.
In the first book, a micro-recorder is surgically implanted under an eye. The intended victim of the recording doesn't like the item's presence there, and her idea of surgical removal involves very little finesse and a pair of pliers.
In "Woken Furies" Kovacs rips out the eyeball of one of his oldest friends
Fantastic Slurs: "Meth", which comes from "Methuselah" and refers to a very old person.
Fantasy Counterpart Culture: Harlan's World = Japan mixed in with several Eastern European cultures (predominantly Slavic ones). Sharya = Islamic culture, particularly in its more militant forms. It's Shariat law enforced planet-wide, essentially.
Fate Worse than Death: Now that everyone's consciousness is housed in cortical stacks, one can inflict a variety of virtual hells on someone you have captured, either to gain information or just for kicks. This can lead to an And I Must Scream fate.
Brain Uploading and Virtual Environments can allow you to upload people into torture programs. They'll feel days of torture every hour you leave them in the program, and there's nothing stopping you from just leaving them in there and forgetting about them.
Can be inflicted without the aid of virtual using a machine called the anatomiser. Co-opted medical equipment keeps you alive whilst slowly dismantling your body a layer at a time. It scans you to ensure it is constantly delivering maximum pain whilst minimisng risk of death. You can't even escape into unconsciousness; if it looks like you're about to pass out the machine pumps you full of stimulants and backs off just enough to keep you awake before continuing. The whole process lasts for days.
Kovacs has the stacks of some priests used in animal fights. They're basically torn limb from limb on a constant basis, quickly going feral and insane.
The Rawling virus corrupts digital information - it is shown to brutally annihilate an AI, and it can be used as a way of killing people equipped with stacks (which is only virtually everybody) through self-destructive insanity.
Final Death: "Real Death" or RD, when your stack is destroyed, erased or irreparably damaged. Less of a fear for those who have a Body Backup Drive somewhere, but these too can be destroyed with enough effort.
Full-Name Basis: When doing internal monologue, Kovacs tends to refer to most people (aside from those he grew up with, fought with or had sex with) by their full names almost exclusively.
Gender Bender: People commonly swap sexes in virtual, and it's heavily implied that those who can afford it have fun with this in real life. In the first book Kovacs impersonates a woman by claiming to have been sleeved in a male body. In the second, Kovacs jokingly questions whether Wardani is a man sleeved in a woman's body because of her actions during sex. And at one point Kovacs is virtual-sleeved into a woman on her period so he can be more efficiently tortured (if you need to ask, you don't wanna know).
There appear to be some rules against downloading people into a sleeve of the opposite sex as part of the normal resleeving procedure (because there's no such thing as an Easy Sex Change) but it isn't clear whether using an opposite sex sleeve is actually frowned upon or even illegal
Generation Ships: How the Protectorate gets around when Needlecast isn't an option. It's hinted that several are still on route to distant stars, and that a number 'went wrong' on some planets, with messy results.
The third book explores the viability of weaponizing it.
Grand Theft Me: Not literally, but if you're "on stack" (which is futurespeak for being mentally jailed), someone might rent out - or buy out - your sleeve while you're not using it. You might have some problems getting it back if it was bought out, as several characters in the first book discover.
Also, invoked literally in the third book, with the theoretized Personality Bombs which would inject chunks of someone's stored personality into the stack of whoever's affected. They remain pure conspiracy theories, however, as Nadia Makita did not enter the mind of Sylvie Oshima that way.
Hate Plague: In Broken Angels, the characters discuss a hate plague as one of the possibilities for a Martian weapon of mass destruction, though it remains mere speculation. Woken Furies introduces an actual hate plague in the form of the Qualgrist Protocol, a Quellist weapon which causes people to become violent specifically towards members of the First Families.
He Who Must Not Be Seen: Elias Ryker. Frequently referenced, Ryker is currently "on stack"- imprisoned in a digital environment- for murder and fraud. In a unique twist, his body is actually present the whole time, it being the sleeve into which Kovacs' mind is implanted.
Heel-Face Turn: Trepp starts off as one of the thugs who capture Kovacs and give him to his torturers, but at the end comes back with the cavalry and saves his ass.
Hero Antagonist: Arguably, Isaac Carrera in the second novel. His motivations are more justifiable than Kovacs', at any rate.
He does cross a Moral Event Horizon with his use of the Anatomiser and his threat to have Kovacs' female companion gang-raped was never likely to go down well.
Human Popsicle: Cryo-capsules, used by those who wish to physically travel between planets rather than just transmitting their minds into new bodies at the destination.
Human Shield: In Woken Furies, Anton uses an ally as a human shield when he comes under fire.
I Have Many Names: Kovacs has also been known as Mamba Lev, One Hand Rending, the Icepick...
I Owe You My Life: Kovacs became friends with Radul Segesvar by saving his life back when they were both in a gang; Radul felt he owed Kovacs a debt and spent the next 200 years paying him back in the form of favors. After he betrays Kovacs, Kovacs realizes that the two of them never actually liked each other that much, and it was only the debt that had kept their friendship together for so long.
Insufficiently Advanced Alien: Human development of FTL communications and significant colonization were pretty much all bootstrapped from what the Martians left behind. At least one character openly wonders whether or not humanity should even be out in the galaxy at all.
Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Kovacs can be a serious jerk, and he'll beat, kill and torture into insanity anyone who goes against him. But underneath all the cynicism, the bloodthirstiness and the gruff manners he's essentially a good guy - as he so clearly shows in the ending of the first book, when he gives a family almost the entirety of his reward money, no strings attached, so they can re-sleeve their murdered daughter. "I wanted something clean to come from all of this", he explains to the disbelieving mother.
Kill Sat: Harlan's World has the Orbitals, large geostationary space platforms left by the aliens before they disappeared. They rain "angelfire" on every hi-tech device that gets above a certain fixed altitude. Nobody knows why they do this, but the only way to elude them is to keep low and use old-tech vehicles such as gas-powered helicopters. There are a few gaps in the shield though, such as the one through which the original colonists travelled. Orbitals are also known for making very rare exceptions for reasons unknown, letting advanced craft pass through or blowing up antiquated, low-flying craft.
This also provides various people with a novel alternative to Cement Shoes... attaching someone to a suitable lifting device and letting them fly skywards means the Angels will get them quickly enough, disposing of all evidence but giving the victim a brief period to contemplate their fate.
Killed Off for Real: Generally averted, as anyone who gets killed can later be resurrected. A few people, however, do end up very old-fashioned dead due to disintegration of the mind-recording chip, viral infection of the same, or a variety of other entertaining methods. Takeshi Kovacs tends to inflict Real Death on anyone who makes him mad enough, by physical destruction of the cortical stacks. He also uses it as a very effective way of showing his badassitude to people he needs to rattle into talking.
Kinetic Weapons Are Just Better: Energy weapons are outnumbered by kinetic weapons. Probably the tech level just isn't quite high enough. The Martians and whoever it is they're fighting against certainly don't bother with projectiles, or even energy weapons in the conventional sense (given what the Angels do to their victims on Harlan's world, for example).
Particle beams are considered especially hazardous due to their ability to destroy cortical stacks
Knight in Sour Armor: Kovacs, although he masks it behind a Snark Knight persona. Kristan Ortega and the Organic Damage division of the Bay City Police seem to fulfill this role.
Longevity Treatment: People are implanted with "cortical stacks" at birth that record one's brain state so that when they die, they can be "resleeved" in a new body.
Lost Technology: the sleeves that Kovacs and Jadwiga uses after their previous sleeves are too heavily damaged is an example of this. It was found in an abandoned sleeving facility in a centuries-old, mimint-filled warzone. As Jack Soul Brasil states, Eishundo Organics (the designers) was centuries ahead of their time. Eishundo were later blacklisted or outright executed by the Harlanites after openly supporting the Quellists during the Unsettlement.
Magnetic Weapons: Examples are mentioned, such as the Philips Thin Gun in 'Altered Carbon'.
Mecha-Mooks: the mimints were designed to be this, but they got out of hand and became independent. There is a variety of them, ranging from gigantic scorpion tanks to karukari. They form co-ops that fight against deCom crews and also fight each other.
Me's a Crowd: Very illegal, but that doesn't stop people from doing it. Dimi the Twin gets called that because he only trusts himself to watch his back, and Kovacs himself does it in the first book to throw off the bad guys' attention. Happens again to Kovacs in the third book, but without his approval. Leads to a rather destructive Mirror Match.
The Metaverse: Virtual environments, some with the option to have time sped up or slowed down relative to the amount of time passing outside.
Mildly Military: The De-Com crews have a somewhat loose command structure. Proven troops have a great deal of operational latitude.
The Mind Is a Plaything of the Body: The first and third books explore how love and other forms of affection are mostly caused by (and therefore restricted to) specific sleeves, not the minds that inhabit them. Re-sleeving ruins (or, due to Grand Theft Me, incites) relationships because some bodies are apparently more compatible than others on a hormonal or pheromonal level. Discussed when Kovacs double-sleeves himself. The Ryker Kovacs is still attracted to Ortega. The Synth Kovacs... not so much.
In Woken Furies, Kovacs and Jadwiga (a member of Sylvie's Slipins) both sleeve into Eishundo Organics sleeves. Because they're descended from the same genetic stock, Kovacs feels a sibling-like bond between them. Kovacs is so attuned to this genetic relation because of his Envoy hyper-awareness.
It may even explain why he didn't ice Jad after she killed the second Kocavs.
Tanya Wardani was behind the sabotages during the Martian Gate operation, mainly because she was a Kempist sympathizer
Takeshi, at the end of Broken Angels, reveals himself to be a Mole on Sanction IV for the Quellists.
Multiethnic Name: Takeshi Kovacs himself. Almost everyone born on Harlan's World is subject to this to some extent, it being a melting pot of every remotely Oriental culture imaginable, though predominantly Japanese and Slavic.
Pay Evil unto Evil: What Kovacs tends to do to people who mess with him or anyone he cares about. Essentially the basis for the entire trilogy - in between revenge and plain hatred, Kovacs pays a lot of evil on many evil people.
People Jars: Sleeves have to be kept somewhere when no one's using them, right?
Police Are Useless: If you have the right contacts you can get away with just about anything.
"Hospital mob suits are designed and programmed to approximate normal human strength and motion while cushioning areas of trauma and ensuring that no part of the body is strained beyond its convalescent limits. In most cases the parameters are hardwired in to stop stupid little fucks from overriding what's good for them. Military custom doesn't work like that."
Precursors: The Martians who aren't actually from Mars.
Prison Rape: Tanya Wardani was raped while in an internment camp in Broken Angels.
There's a drug called "empathin" that creates a Psychic Link between the user anyone in close proximity that also happens to be on the drug. It also leaves the user with a mean hangover.
One character has her sleeve bioengineered so she secretes an aphrodisiac, psychically-linking drug in her fluids when she's excited. The sexual experience deriving from that is highly addictive and quite mind-blowing - a non-envoy would most likely require many hours just to be able to reason properly after the hangover, let alone be productive.
Punch Clock Villain: Trepp in Altered Carbon is a pretty decent person who happens to work as an enforcer for a rather awful person. Kovacs acknowledges himself that they are Not So Different.
Really 700 Years Old: Both Bancrofts and most other "meths" (slang for very old people) are examples of this.
A particularly nasty example... they punish signs of stress and physical action by the wearer using an electric shock. This usually increases the stress and physical activity of the person, with the result that they can and do kill people.
Robot War: The first third or so of Woken Furies is the small-scale mercenary equivalent of this. Sylvie's Slipins and the other De-Com crews are paid very well to keep the self-replicating/self-repairing war machines from escaping old battlefields.
Screw Yourself: Miriam Bancroft mentions that she'll sometimes downloads copies of her mind into cloned bodies to "play".
Shoplift and Die: Automated small arms protecting business establishments are quite common. Anti-armor cannons aren't, but that doesn't stop the AI in the Hendrix hotel from using them anyway, with predictably messy results.
Somewhat justified in that it was fortified during the "Corporate Wars".
Sleeper Starship: In the first book it's mentioned that the Catholic Church deployed a couple of these. Since they are opposed to uploading.
Sociopathic Soldier: A subversion. The Envoy corps looks for soldiers who have an almost oxymoronic combination of psychopathic and loyal tenancies. While Kovacs sometimes refers to feeling a joy when killing, it can be inferred that this was brought on Envoy conditioning and training. While Kovacs has no problem killing anyone who gets in his way, he also develops a distaste for war and will sometimes go out of his way to help (or at least not kill) someone.
Super Soldier: The Envoy corps are mentally conditioned Badasses who are trained to destroy rebel governments in relatively small numbers. Ostensibly, anyone with combat training can be a super-soldier in the right sleeve.
The Envoys are largely the result of mental conditioning that verges on Mind Rape... in some ways they aren't quite human anymore. They don't bother with physical training, because in the same way that a person dependant on weaponry can be disarmed, in the Altered Carbon universe a person dependant on his body could be sleeved into something much less adequate. This is what makes Kovacs such a badass.
Technology Marches On: Apparently, doing this in-universe is one of Morgan's favourite tropes. Weapons, viruses and sleeves that were cutting-edge in the first book are outdated by the third.
The detailed evolution of neurachem throughout the trilogy is a great example. In Altered Carbon, it just jacks up Kovacs' reflexes. By the second (set over a century after the first book) and third (around fifty years after the second) books, neurachem can jack up the users' vision to see over large distances.
Title Drop: Happens multiple times in common speech in the first and third books, and only a few in the second.
Training from Hell: Physical training is made practically irrelevant by the various chems and synthetic improvements one can have for his sleeve, but mental training is incredibly important for the Envoys. Kovacs' mental training has made him such an incrediblebadass that he shrugs off torture sessions that would leave any normal person scarred for life and/or insane beyond any hope of cure.
Kovacs' fight with Kadmin. While Kovacs' is sleeved in the body of a middle-aged chain-smoking cop, Kadmin has an enormously strong and fast Hand of God 'freak fighter' sleeve. Kovacs still loses but gives an excellent accounting of himself.
Also describes Kovacs in Broken Angels as his sleeve, which wasn't in particularly good shape at the start of the book, is slowly dying of radiation poisoning. Because of this, Kovacs becomes up effectively immobile if not for the hospital mob suits and drugs, and yet he manages to wipe out Carrera and his army.
What Could Possibly Go Wrong?: Weaponized semisentient nanomachine colony that can basically fight everything that's thrown at it and adapt to what it can't fight. The inventors are actually surprised that it goes haywire.
What the Hell, Hero?: Kovacs' employers and associates, typically no shrinking violets themselves, often express shock or astonishment at the number of people Kovacs kills or maims in each novel.
Who Wants to Live Forever?: Examined. Everyone gets fitted with a cortical stack at birth and they're pretty difficult to destroy, so barring severe misfortune or deliberate attack there's the opportunity to live more or less indefinitely. Most people don't, though, either because they can't afford to get a new sleeve, don't want to go through the aging process more than two or three times, or just get bored of life. People that choose to keep going year after year are widely considered to have a screw loose, although since they are wealthy as a rule and have had lifetimes to accumulate power and influence they tend not to care what the little folks think about them.