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Literature / Takeshi Kovacs

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Well, fuck them. Make it personal. note 

"Pull on the new flesh like borrowed gloves/And burn your fingers once again."

The Takeshi Kovacs series (also called the Altered Carbon series, after its 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 (2002), sees Kovacs brought out of digitised storage (used as punishment for crimes) and sent to Earth to work as a private detective for the super-wealthy Laurens Bancroft. As a "Meth" (from "Methuselah"), Bancroft can afford to live for several lifetimes, repeatedly downloading himself into fresh bodies. He's recently returned from the dead, thanks to a personality backup, after an apparent suicide, but he 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 (2003), 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 (2005), 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.

A television series adaptation was released on Netflix in 2018 and ran for two seasons.

A original Graphic Novel Altered Carbon Download Blues co-written by Richard K. Morgan and Rik Hoskin with art by Ferran Sellares was published by Dynamite Comics in May, 2019.

Hunters Entertainment released the Altered Carbon The Roleplaying Game, set in the world of the TV series, in 2020.

This series provides examples of:

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     The series as a whole 

  • 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.
  • 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.
    • Alcatraz island itself has been converted into a secure storage facility for the Bancroft family's backup clones.
  • 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 (a real-time day can be 8-9 virtual months) 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.note 
  • Ancient Astronauts: Martians are said to have visited Earth centuries ago, but only spoke to the Whales.
  • Anti-Hero: Kovacs, Unscrupulous Hero subtype.
  • Artificial Intelligence: There are many of them around, and some even have rights under UN law.
  • Badass Army: The Envoys, designed in a post-stack universe to respond instantaneously to incidents or wars threatening the Protectorate. They manage this by being very adaptable and dangerous in all ways, due to training and conditioning allowing them to be casted to a new body hundreds of lightyears away, being ready to fight a war and win within a day or week of deployment.
  • Becoming the Mask: Micky Serendipity.
  • 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 Serbian "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 doing the same thing to his mother.
  • Bio-Augmentation: Combat and sport sleeves tend to be enhanced in all the ways you'd expect (like the ubiquitous neurachem.)
  • 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). There are synthetic sleeves, but no-one likes them due to the Uncanny Valley (both controlling the body and outside of one).
  • 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.
  • Brain Uploading: The whole concept of the setting.
  • 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, prisoners' brains are 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.
  • Casual Interstellar Travel: Zig-Zagged. On one hand, Brain Uploading + Subspace Ansible means that anyone with a stack can have their consciousness e-mailed to other planets at essentially zero cost. The catch is you also need to pre-purchase a sleeve at your destination, which increases the hassle drastically. This has kept Catholicism limited to Earth, as they believe that uploading does not preserve the soul.
  • Cyberpunk: The series is a tossup between this and Post-Cyberpunk.
  • 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 friends and mentors from his past. They 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
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: The world is pretty shitty but there are many people who are trying to better things.
  • Earth That Used to Be Better: Earth is 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 first book Altered Carbon explores this fully.
  • Electric Instant Gratification: People addicted to it are called "wireheads".
  • Energy Weapon: Several energy weapons exist, such as the 'Sunjet' rifle (which might be either plasma, or a particle beam, depending on the book).
  • Expositron 9000: Dig 301 helped Kovacs (and the readers) understand a lot about the revolution and Nadia Makita in Woken Furies and also helps Kovacs escape.
  • Eye Scream:
    • 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" — in reference to The Beautiful Elite immortals who rule the Protectorate.
  • 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 minimising 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.
  • 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.
  • The Future Is Noir: the first book borrows noticeably from noir investigation dramas.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Genetic Memory: Whales apparently have race memories of the Martians and humanity started to talk with them about them a few decades before Altered Carbon.
  • Grand Theft Me:
    • Figuratively if not literally; instead of prison, many crimes are punishable by having one's cortical stack put in storage; while you're "on stack", 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. Better yet, lots of people have no sure-fire means of ensuring a sleeve will be available if they die; Relatives may or may not be able to claim the stack, which they often wear as necklaces as they save money over the year to "spin them up" for holidays in a rented sleeve like a cyberpunk version of The Family Circus Christmas Special. Bancroft has Kovacs re-sleeved in the body of Elias Ryker, a cop who lost his sleeve after being indicted for corruption — a sleeve that just happens to have state-of-the-art combat enhancements that would be useful for an Envoy-turned investigator...
    • 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.
  • Green Aesop: A Deliberate Values Dissonance interpretation of it; "The place is more important than happiness, well-being or lives of the people who live there."
    Laurens Bancroft: That tree is over seven hundred years old. When I bought this property, I hired a design engineer and he wanted to chop it down. He was planning to build the house further up the rise, and the tree was spoiling the sea view. I sacked him. You see, Mr. Kovacs, that engineer was a man in his thirties, and to him the tree was just an inconvenience. It was in his way. The fact it had been part of the world for over twenty times the length of his own life didn’t seem to bother him. He had no respect. I am the tree. The police would like to chop me down, just like that engineer. I am inconvenient to them, and they have no respect.
  • Grey Goo: "Nanobes" that are programmed to do nothing but reproduce extremely quickly and survive, if attacked with energy weapons they develop electromagnetic shielding.
  • 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" — removed from his body — 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.
  • High Times Future: All drugs are ridiculously common due to improvements in medical treatment and the fact that drug abuse doesn't affect your ability to get resleeved — as long as you're not the one stuck with an addict's sleeve. One example of this that annoys Kovacs in Altered Carbon is the body he finds himself occupying previously belonged to a notorious chain-smoker; while he partakes of numerous drugs, nicotine is one he abstained from, and throughout the book, he finds himself jonesing for cancer sticks. In addition to all the drugs we have today, something called "tetrameth" is popular, and advances in chemistry have led to a bunch of new drug types - two of which (a synthetic testosterone and an extreme sedative) are important to the plot. At least some of these drugs are illegal, but enforcement doesn't appear to be a big priority for the police.
  • 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.
  • Immortal Procreation Clause: Not in effect - Laurens and Miriam Bancroft, for instance, have had either 61 or 63 children (Laurens mentions having 61 children and also that two of his children have Really Died, and since none of them really affect the story at all it's never made clear if 61 is the total or just the ones still alive). Their youngest daughter is only in her early twenties, meaning she was born when Laurens was over 330 years old, and Laurens seems open to having even more in the future. There's no technical reason that ordinary people can't have a couple of kids every time they're resleeved in a younger body. It seems that most people don't, though, possibly because this is an enormous expense or maybe just because they don't want to continually raise infants.
  • 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.
  • Invisible Aliens: No one knows where the Martians went, or why.
  • I Will Punish Your Friend for Your Failure: How Kawahara compels Kovacs to do as they ask, in regards to the Bancroft case.
  • 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 on most of the planet 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.
  • 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.
  • Longer-Than-Life Sentence: The use of virtual prisons means people can actually serve time for more than a standard lifespan. Certain serious offenses get the "double barrel", or 200 years. As of Altered Carbon, Kovacs has spent approximately a century on stack for various offenses. This is also why Envoys aren't particularly averse to breaking the law (unless it carries a Erasure charge); they already spend ages on-stack waiting for redeployment, so going to "sleep" and waking up after decades or centuries doesn't scare them.
  • 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.
  • Master of Your Domain: One of the skills that every Envoy possesses.
  • 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.
  • Memory Jar: The series introduces the "stack", a cigarette-filter-sized implant at the base of the brain. It contains a complete record of the user's personality and memories, which can be backed up, sent elsewhere, or installed in a new body (aka "sleeve"). If your body dies but the stack is not destroyed, you can be revived. As an added bonus, a human brain is the only thing that can readily make use of the information in a stack, so even if others get access to your backups, they can't view/edit your mind in cut-and-paste fashion. Your memories can only be recovered by creating another "you" in the process. The novels come complete with a very large and well-thought-out list of the technology's consequences.
  • Mental Space Travel: the only form of "FTL travel" is to "needlecast" your Ego from one system to another and buy or rent a sleeve on the other end.
  • 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. And, of course, it gives the wealthy interesting ways of exploring their own sexuality .
  • 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.
  • Military Science Fiction: Broken Angels and, to a lesser extent, Woken Furies.
  • 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.
    • Miriam Bancroft puts the whammy on Kovacs with tailored pheremones he's helpless to resist because they're the refined form of a chemical symbiosis the 26th century recognizes as the basis of human relationships.
    • 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 Kovacs.
  • Mistaken for Pedophile: Kovacs in Woken Furies, due to fifteen-year-old Isa hanging out around him while wearing very Stripperiffic clothing.
  • The Mole:
    • 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, being melting pot of Japanese and Slavic/Central European culture.
  • Nano Machines: Including some weaponized versions
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • Almost unnoticeable in the rollercoaster of events towards the second book's finale.
    "That other ship was not Martian."
    • Near the end of Woken Furies, Kovacs realizes that Todor Murakami is really not on furlough and doing him a favor by helping him storm Radul Segesvar's compound to rescue Sylvie, Virginia Vidaura, and the others, but is actually part of a covertly deployed Envoy team tasked with keeping an eye on/neutralizing the Quellists right after he hits Kovacs over the head and then shoots him with a stun gun.
  • Older Than They Look: Pretty much everyone who has been through a few sleeves.
  • Other Me Annoys Me: The younger copy of Kovacs from Woken Furies drives the older Kovacs nuts for many reasons, not limited to his attitude, the fact that he's working for the Harlan family, the way he disrespects the older Kovacs... The fact that he's literally a copy of Kovacs from 200 or so years ago when he was a young Envoy gives this shades of I Hate Past Me as well.
  • Outgrown Such Silly Superstitions: Not really, but atheism is about as common as vaccination; most religions haven't accepted Brain Uploading, which drastically limits the life expectancy of their adherents and keeps them trapped on Earth, as interstellar travel is impossible save by D.H.F.note  Religious sects that ban any benefit of stacks like not dying are widely disrespected as a result.
    Ortega: Kovacs, I hate these goddamn freaks. They’ve been grinding us down for the best part of two and a half thousand years. They’ve been responsible for more misery than any other organization in history. You know they won’t even let their adherents practice birth control, for Christ’s sake, and they’ve stood against every significant medical advance of the last five centuries. Practically the only thing you can say in their favor is that this D.H.F. thing has stopped them from spreading with the rest of humanity.
  • 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?
  • Photographic Memory: Envoys are conditioned to have perfect recall of everything they experience. This comes in handy for Kovacs plenty of times over the course of the novels.
  • Police Are Useless: If you have the right contacts you can get away with just about anything.
  • Powered Armor:
    "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.
  • Private Detective: Kovacs in the first book.
  • Private Eye Monologue: The entire first book is narrated this way.
  • Private Military Contractors: Carrera's Wedge in the second book. Mercenaries in general are pretty common in-universe.
  • Psychic Link:
    • 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.
    • Miriam Bancroft has her sleeve bioengineered so she secretes empathin 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.
  • The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized: Harlan's World long-past Unsettlement, the major war between the U.N.-backed Harlan Oligarchy and the revolutionary Quellists.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Kovacs goes on at least one per book.
  • 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.
  • Sleeper Starship: Cryo-capsules, used by those who wish to physically travel between planets rather than just transmitting their minds into new bodies at the destination. In the first book it's mentioned that the Catholic Church deployed a couple of these, since they are opposed to uploading.
  • Sociopathic Soldier: Deconstructed along with Super-Soldier. The Envoy corps favors soldiers as recruits, as regimented warfare encourages an almost oxymoronic combination of psychopathic and loyal tenancies;
    They're opposing values. The chances of them both arising naturally in the same person are almost nil. Military training takes the natural order and fucks with it. It breaks down any resistance to psychopathic behavior at the same time as it builds fanatical loyalties to the group. Package deal. Soldiers are perfect Envoy material.
    • On the other hand, that's what they start with; most militaries hesitate to teach every soldier how to single-handedly kill entire roomfuls of armed opponents because that's kind of a niche element of soldiering — much of a soldier's time is spent guarding, patrolling, drilling, maintaining their equipment, or even just doing paperwork. Someone constantly looking for an opportunity to spray-paint a room with enemy entrails is useful when such a thing is needed, but the rest of the time he just creeps the rest of the unit out. An entire group of such people...? Human blender waiting to happen.
    When they make an Envoy, do you want to know what they do? They burn out every evolved violence limitation instinct in the human psyche. Submission signal recognition, pecking-order dynamics, pack loyalties. It all goes, tuned out a neuron at a time; and they replace it with a conscious will to do harm.
    • Also, PTSD and burn-out is a far greater hazard in Envoys. Kovacs is a mess even at the best of times, and while he 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.
  • Space Age Stasis: An Invoked Trope by the Protectorate in the early days of interstellar travel; they conned all the would-be Space Cossacks into leaving Earth That Used to Be Better on Sleeper Starships, then created a People's Republic of Tyranny while they were in transit.
    Laurens Bancroft: The young of spirit, the adventurous, all left on the ships in droves. They were encouraged to leave. Those who stayed were the stolid, the obedient, the limited. I watched it happen, and at the time I was glad, because it made carving out an empire so much easier. Now, I wonder if it was worth the price we paid. Culture fell in on itself, grappled after norms to live by, settled for the old and familiar. Rigid morality, rigid law. The UN declarations fossilised into global conformity, there was a sort of supracultural straitjacket, and with an inherent fear of what might be borne from the colonies, the Protectorate arose while the ships were still in flight. When the first of them made planetfall, their stored peoples woke into a prepared tyranny.
  • Space Cossacks: The UN sends a huge chunk of Earth's youth as interstellar colonizers on Sleeper Starships. While they are away, the UN devolves into the tyrannical Protectorate. As it's all a calculated move, the people are purposefully enticed by the appeal of adventure and getting to live far from an Earth That Used to Be Better.
  • 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.
  • Take That!: Specifically one against Buddhism; If all of our suffering is the result of crimes we committed in past lives — crimes we don't actually remember committing — then we all are paying for the crimes of other people.
    It started out from an argument I was having with a Buddhist. The point of conflict was the karma system. He was arguing any suffering you undergo in this life is a direct result of something bad you did in a previous life, which sounds fair until you realise that you can’t actually remember any of your previous lives. Then, it suddenly starts to sound existentially pretty fucking unfair. After all, if you can’t remember a previous life then to all intents and purposes that life was lived by another person. And why should you be paying for someone else’s crimes?
  • 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.
    • Taken so far that the entire plot of the first book (involving a mind backup every 48 hours, which is exotic technology) would be impossible by the third, where remote backups are routinely made every second.
  • 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 incredible badass that he shrugs off torture sessions that would leave any normal person scarred for life and/or insane beyond any hope of cure.
  • Transhumans in Space: Brain Uploading was used to colonize exosolar planets, and a lot of the cloned sleeves have Bio-Augmentation of some sort.
  • Uncanny Valley: In-Universe. The reason synthetic sleeves are held in disdain, despite them being much cheaper than cloned ones; they lack all the odd little aches and pains that everyone is acclimated to over the course of a lifetime, and Kovacs expressly compares it to "living alone in a drafty house". More insidiously, the corporations apparently can't quite replicate the sense of taste;
    Kovacs: Everything you eat ends up tasting like curried sawdust.
  • Weak, but Skilled:
    • 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 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, century after century, are widely considered to have an essential 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.
  • Year Inside, Hour Outside: Simulations are frequently run at several times faster than the real world. This allows psychotherapy courses, or interrogations, to be finished in mere hours of real time. Broken Angels features the inverse with a starship whose passengers are in a simulation that's actually slowed down so their decades-long trip feels like a month.
  • Zeerust: An example of how fast this can happen; Morgan wrote the trilogy from 2002/2005 — just a little over a decade ago, but still well before 3D bioprinting and The Metaverse became buzzwords — making his universe's demand for natural aged humans and clones for sleeves look rather quaint when sleeves could be printed on demand or even forgone entirely in favor of a VRMMO simulation for sleeveless stacks to populate. The Netflix series makes good attempts to Hand Wave this with bioprinters being heavily regulated to prevent "identity theft" and an Alternet full of stack-annihilating malware.

     Altered Carbon 
  • Accent Relapse: Reileen Kawahara spends most of the book 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.
  • Asshole Victim: Quite a few, but special mention goes to Jack It Up, an AI that runs a sleazy, borderline illegal virtual whorehouse. Kovacs needs a fall guy at one point, and Jack's connections to organized crime and run-ins with the law mean no one is surprised that it gets in trouble (or particularly cares).
  • Bestiality Is Depraved: When Takeshi sneaks aboard the Head in the Clouds, he spots an abused dog limping out of a room. He enters, and finds a man with his pants down, who's already cleaning up. Takeshi shoots him in the head, and then goes back outside and mercy kills the dog.
  • Big Bad: Reileen Kawahara is this. She arranged for Lauren Bancroft to be drugged so he accidentally killed a prostitute, which was all part of an attempt to get him to support legislation preventing Catholics from being interrogated post-mortem.
  • Bodyguard Betrayal: At the climax, Trepp ends up turning on Kawahara.
  • Boxed Crook: Takeshi is in this situation with Lauren Bancroft. He can't get off Earth without serving a massive sentence if he doesn't do his bidding, and he is closely monitored so that he doesn't just screw around on Bancroft's dime.
  • Chekhov's Gun : every bit of the story, from Kovacs' Shell-Shocked Veteran PTSD-caused hallucinations to Ortega's t-shirt to Bancroft's telescope, helps him finally see through the puzzle.
  • Cowboy Cop: Ryker was, by all accounts, one of these. He specifically joined the Organic Damage Division because of their reputation for flexibility. He then became a Dirty Cop. Actually, he didn't.
  • 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 Reileen Kawahara conspired to make him accidentally kill a Catholic prostitute, and he knew his backup would have none of the guilt if he acted quickly.
  • Go-Karting with Bowser: Kovacs and Trepp end up going on a nearly daylong pub crawl / drug binge and discover they get along pretty well. So well, she ends up saving his life twice, the second time betraying her boss to do so.
  • Interrogating the Dead: Cortical stacks usually allow murder victims to be questioned, unless their stack was destroyed or the victim was Catholic, and the courts are considering repealing the Catholic exemption because many criminals have been using Catholics as Disposable Sex Workers or changing records so a victim appears to be Catholic.
  • Just Following Orders: Kawahara tells Kovacs that the people he killed at the Wei Clinic were just doing their jobs, but Kovacs dismisses it, saying they should have chosen another job.
  • Loophole Abuse: Cops and criminals both take advantage of Catholic aversion to re-sleeves to get away with murder. If a stack has a religious note on it when digitally accessed, it means that the person inside can't be revived or interrogated in virtual settings and practically speaking, the victim can't reveal who killed them. In effect, criminals deliberately recruit Catholics for disposable roles (like prostitutes and drug runners), or they forge one of the aforementioned notes and place it in their victim's stack so their victim doesn't come back... and corrupt cops do the same for people they don't want coming back.
  • Magnetic Weapons: Examples are mentioned, such as the Philips Thin Gun.
  • Motive Rant: A ridiculously over-the-top one.
    Reileen Kawahara: Human life has no value. Haven’t you learned that yet, Takeshi, with all you’ve seen? It has no value, intrinsic to itself. Machines cost money to build. Raw materials cost money to extract. But people? You can always get some more people. They reproduce like cancer cells, whether you want them or not. They are abundant, Takeshi. Why should they be valuable? Do you know that it costs us less to recruit and use up a real snuff whore than it does to set up and run the virtual equivalent format. Real human flesh is cheaper than a machine. It’s the axiomatic truth of our times.
  • Never Suicide: Bancroft insists that he couldn't have committed suicide, partly because he doesn't see himself as the type (a man willing to live centuries wouldn't decide to kill himself), and partly because his backup would have made any suicide deaths temporary and he would have known this. However, Takeshi eventually discovers that Bancroft had killed himself after murdering a prostitute while under the influence of synemorphestosterone, thanks to Kawahara wanting blackmail material on him. When he realized what he'd done, he killed himself to keep the memories of the murder from ending up in his backup.
  • No Periods, Period: Averted. When Takeshi is captured and put into virtual reality to be tortured, he is deliberately sleeved into a young woman on her period because the body will feel more pain compared to a male body.
  • Punch-Clock Villain: Trepp is a pretty decent person who happens to work as an enforcer for a rather awful person. Kovacs acknowledges himself that they aren't that different.
  • Pre-Mortem One-Liner: Right before Kovacs kills Reileen Kawahara with a grenade he quotes a Quellist Black Brigade guerilla who blew herself up while being interrogated:
    That's fucking enough.
  • Rapid DNA Test: Kovacs has a gun pressed to his head as he's checking into a hotel, which will cancel the transaction if he doesn't enter payment information in seconds. He licks his thumb under the pretense of a cough and wipes the spit on the terminal, which allows the hotel to defend him with extreme prejudice.
  • Really 700 Years Old: Both Bancrofts and most other "meths" (slang for very old people) are examples of this.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Money!: Laurens Bancroft has this attitude and he's (largely) correct. Unusually, for Film Noir, Takeshi has the same attitude since Laurens is his patron.

     Broken Angels 
  • Armies Are Evil: Takeshi has this sort of attitude, which goes over like a ton of bricks with all the soldiers around him.
  • Artifact of Doom: Lampshaded with the Martian warship. The Kempists who originally found it were planning to use the spaceship as a bargaining chip. On realising they had a warship of vastly superior technology which they could use to smash the United Nations Protectorate, they became Drunk with Power until Tanya decided to kill everyone to prevent a massacre.
  • Benevolent Precursors: Tanya Wardani has this view of the Martians. They're not.
  • Black-and-Gray Morality: The war between the Kempists and Wedge has resulted in atrocities on both sides.
  • Bloody Murder: Some sleeves have blood loaded with deterrent-toxins. In Broken Angels, Luc Deprez recounts how he successfully assassinated a target, only to die afterwards because the target's blood turned out to be a slow-acting poison.
  • Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: Kovacs has been hired by the Quellists on Harlan's World to assist the Kempist rebels on Sanction IV. He decides that Kemp is a jerk, and signs up with the Wedge to fight the Kempists. He then deserts the Wedge and signs up with the Mandrake Corporation on a private salvage gig, only to end up selling the prize to one of Mandrake's competitors. None of this was entirely unjustified, but it doesn't make him look very good.
  • Dirty Communists: Kemp's followers are a 26th century variant.
  • Disproportionate Retribution:
    • Takeshi massacres an entire troop of Wedge soldiers to avenge a friend despite none of them having anything to do with it.
    • Kemp drops a nuclear bomb on Sauberville due to Hand's manipulation.
  • Double Agent: The epilogue to Broken Angels reveals that Kovacs was originally hired by the Quellists to bring Kemp closer to their ideology, but he changed sides a couple times during the war.
  • Dwindling Party: The membership of the Mandrake expedition to Dangrek dwindles over time, and many of their ends are anything but pleasant.
  • Hollywood Voodoo: Averted. Voodoo is treated as any other religion in the setting.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Takeshi gets called out on his Straw Nihilist attitude several times in the book by others who point out it's only made him alone and a murderer for hire.
  • Nominal Hero: Takeshi's motivation in this book is purely financial. He betrays, murders, and worse to achieve his goal with no remorse.
  • The Political Officer: Stated to be rife on Sanction Four in Broken Angels. One we meet is Lamont, whose platoon forcibly addicted him to Electric Instant Gratification and use it to ensure he gives them consistently glowing reviews.
  • Prison Rape: Tanya Wardani was raped while in an internment camp in Broken Angels.
  • Private Military Contractors: The Wedge serves as this.
  • Put on a Bus: The entirety of the cast from Altered Carbon but Takeshi fails to make a return.
  • Ragtag Band of Misfits: Takeshi and Hand assemble one of these to retrieve the Martian ship.
  • Recycled In Space: The entirety of the war is "Vietnam in Space" with a bit of Apocalypse Now and Three Kings.
  • Restraining Bolt: The inhibitor units used on prisoners in Broken Angels. 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.
  • The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized: The Kempist Revolutionaries are less than pleasant in their use of force.
  • Signed Up for the Dental: Kovacs enlists with the Wedge mostly because they'll resleeve him if he dies.
  • War for Fun and Profit: What many accuse the corporations of.
  • We ARE Struggling Together: Everyone in Takeshi's group has their own agenda.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: It's not entirely clear what happened to Matthias Hand, but it probably wasn't anything good.
  • Your Terrorists Are Our Freedom Fighters: The Kempist Revolutionaries are an absolutely bunch of these.

     Woken Furies 
  • A-Cup Angst: Mari Ado; Kovacs notes that her bust isn't actually that small, she just has a complex about it.
  • Evil Knockoff: Takeshi Kovac's personality from when he was a young sociopathic thug is sleeved into a new body and sent after his older Anti-Hero self. According to the law you can only have one personality walking around at the same time, so he doesn't have any choice but to kill his other self or face Real Death.
  • Friendly Enemy: Todor Murakami genuinely likes both Kovacs and Vidaura because he still sees them as Envoys, even if they've resigned long since. Although he could have them summarily executed (and probably should, given his mission), he instead compliments Kovacs on his work to that point, explains what he's up to and why, and states that he plans to let them go. On his part, Kovacs has a civil conversation with Murakami without attacking or insulting him, which given his tendency to freak out over much more minor slights is practically out of character for him. Vidaura, on the other hand, isn't in a forgiving mood; Murakami had just killed her lover.
  • Human Shield: Anton uses an ally as a human shield when he comes under fire.
  • The Lost Lenore: Sarah Sachilowska seems to be this for Kovacs during. Her execution note  at the hands of religious extremists after she flouted their rules in an attempt to re-sleeve her daughter sent him on a year-long Roaring Rampage of Revenge whose ferocity astonishes even Virginia Vidaura. After Sarah's death, Kovacs grows even more cynical than before and focuses on nothing beyond his revenge. The fact that Woken Furies (and therefore the trilogy as a whole) ends on a hopeful note, with Kovacs seeming to give up on his vendetta and privately hoping that the ultra-advanced Martian technology that Sylvie Oshima can communicate with will one day be able to locate the cortical stacks belonging to Sarah and her daughter so they can be re-sleeved would seem to provide more evidence for this. It is also revealed that the fact that she became involved with another man after getting out of storage was one of the main reasons why he left Harlan's World for Sanction IV, although she was alive for at least part of his time there.
  • The Mind Is a Plaything of the Body: One character is shocked to find that she doesn't care as much when her lesbian lover is killed, because they don't have the same erotic chemistry when she's resleeved into another body.
  • Not in This for Your Revolution: Although Kovacs is nominally a Quellist, he has at least as cynical a view of another Quellist Unsettlement as anyone could. He's not enthusiastic about their prospects for success and thinks that even if they win, it's not likely to be much of an improvement. He assists the Quellists anyway, primarily because he feels like it's his best chance to rescue Sylvie Oshima who is currently sharing a body with Quellcrist Falconer, and secondarily because of Virginia Vidaura being a true believer.
  • Precursor Worship: The religious extremists on Harlan's World have at least some reverence for the Martians, the rationale for their objection to resleeving is that none of the Martian corpses discovered had cortical stacks because they had the technology to upload at orbital distances.

Alternative Title(s): Altered Carbon, Broken Angels, Woken Furies, The Takeshi Kovacs Series