Richard K. Morgan   photo of Richard K. Morgan  


Well — yeah. Who'd you think you're talking to here? Just a matter of context, that's all. Look, all you need's an industrial capacity generator and some virtual space to build in. Go get me this list of hardware and give me a couple of weeks. Pleasure without end, pain beyond death? Sure. Nothing to it. Time on paradise island with dead relatives and loved ones (if you're lucky, those two groups may overlap some). Yup, we can do that. Oh, you want to come back from the dead? Well, okay. You'll need a body for that, of course, preferably one that's not being used. Costya, but then doesn't everything these days. Clones are pricey, take my advice you'll go for pre-worn instead. Might be a few minor settling-in complications — drug addiction, minor damage to organs, old viral complaints, that kind of thing — but really, it doesn't take too much getting used to. Oh, and try not to bump into anyone who knew the previous owner, that can be, well, awkward.

Science casts a long black shadow back over who we think we are, and where it falls the temperature falls with it. Its touch is chilly and unforgiving. Evolutionary theory informs our understanding of some frankly inexcusable social behavior and renders it perfectly normal. Rape, murder, theft (what we like to call the patriarchy around here) — it isn't dysfunction, it's function and if it didn't function, it wouldn't still be around. Chemistry goes some way toward explaining how this, and other less unpleasant behavior is powered, but knowing yourself as a control room full of banks of chemical switches waiting to be thrown is hardly a consolation. Structural engineering gives us the metaphors for how we damage ourselves on a day-to-day basis. Tension, stress, strain, (inevitable) collapse. Mechanical engineering kills religion and banishes the soul. What happened to your car? Oh, it died, packed up, stopped working. Did its soul go to heaven? I'm sorry? And digital data technology maps the metaphor of genetic code, creeps towards an explanation of memory, and so alters forever our understanding of who we are and how we got here. In the future, maybe quantum mechanics will teach us something equally chilling about exactly how we exist from moment to moment of what we like to think of as time.

Pretty scary. But of course, you can't live with science on that basis, you'd just never get anything done. So we collapse the dimension of awe and understanding that science provides, and we live with a handy pocket sketch of reality instead. We make use of, we take for granted, we ignore. And that's where my Can Do pal in paragraph one comes in. Because in the universe of Altered Carbon (with which I hope you'll be acquainting yourself soon) the idea of coming back from the dead, possessing another person's body or suffering eternal joy or damnation is no more mind blowing than driving coast to coast, getting a limb sewn back on or retiring to Costa Rica is now.

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Photo credit: Virginia Cottinelli