Cyberpunk is one of those obscure genres, a subset of science-fiction in general. You may or may not be familiar with some of its notable examples such as Blade Runner, Tron, Ghost in the Shell, The Matrix and (as LadyDrake keeps pestering me to watch) Black Mirror.
As our society has progressed technologically we are diving further and further into this specific subgenre as a way of asking uncomfortable questions about our relationship with technology and how we may (or may not) want to change various aspects of that relationship. So what does all this have to do with a new half season of a show that Netflix has decided to release, and why am I inflicting this review on you? Same reason as I do half the stuff I do, to keep my status as a ‘writer’ with the good folks at Rivet City Limited, but also to share my thoughts as someone who has grown up a geek.
As mentioned before, Netflix optioned the rights to turn Altered Carbon into a TV show for Netflix, and I, having nothing to do the previous weekend, decided to binge all 10 episodes. So with all that being said, lets dive right in.
If you are not familiar with the story, here is a brief synopsis with as few spoilers as I can manage (but there will be more at the bottom when I quickly touch on the series as related to the source material). The series takes place in the year 2384 and humanity has colonized the stars as well as developed ‘altered carbon’ technology, which allows a person to be backed up on a disk, or stack, that is implanted in their spine, about where the shoulders meet the neck. Bodies have been reduced to nothing more than a conveyance for the consciousness that resides in the stack. The practical upshot is that nobody really dies unless they do something really wrong, or their stack is destroyed.
The series as a whole is fairly well thought out, following the plot of the book, to varying degrees, and is able to weave a compelling dramatic narrative that will keep you hooked. The acting is competent and the amount of gratuitous nudity is just right for a prepubescent boy. The main character Takeshi Kovacs is played by Joel Kinnaman, and he does a fair amount of justice to the character. The character being a kind of supersoldier/diplomat/spy (think Black Widow from the Marvel franchise, but amped up to the n-th degree) with the standard horrific childhood.
Kovacs’ love interest is Kristen Ortega, a hard boiled detective in the Bay City Police Department(played by the extremely capable Martha Higareda). Higareda executes the character as faithfully as Kinnaman does and when they are on screen together you can feel the inner conflict that Ortega has in working with Kovacs in her ex-lover’s body.
The supporting cast are present and perform with a range of success, one of my favorite scenes involves a 6 foot tall, 240 lb plus male caucasian gang member getting Ortega’s grandmother downloaded into his body so she can spend the day of the dead with her family, the whole scene was quite entertaining to watch.
The bigger question here, and the question that I have struggled with for the past week is how does it stack up to the original book and does it do it justice? Here is your warning, spoilers are ahead.
Overall they get broad strokes and they play around with them, sometimes to an uncomfortable degree if you are familiar with the book. A perfect example of this would be our protagonist, Kovacs, he is what they call an Envoy, a soldier/diplomat that is a mix of special forces and super spy, trained to be able to get deployed to any planet under any conditions and execute his mission with minimal assistance. In the book the Envoys are spoken of as boogiemen, more or less, as they have had every violence limiting mechanism removed and the intelligence training they receive prohibits them from ever holding a position of power, ever. They are in essence, the government’s secret weapon for quashing rebellions from over 300 light years away.
In the TV series, they have completely changed the nature of the Envoys, turning them into freedom fighters (calling them Quellists), the real unfortunate part is that in the book Kovacs talks repeatedly about how he was fighting against the Quellists, hinting that he had some pretty terrible things in the name of peace, not sympathizing with them and joining their fight. This fundamental change in character works, if and only if you haven’t read the books. There are a number of other changes that the writers of the series chose to make that ultimately do not do the show the amount of justice it deserves, such as adding a sister for Kovacs who ultimately turns out to be the big bad guy, as well as adding the character of Quellcrest Falconer, who was nowhere in the original book, changing a number of the minor character’s relationships with each other and even elevating one to a major plot device.
Overall, I felt that the series did a significant amount of violence to the book, meaning that they took the book, threw away half of it, then filled in the missing holes with ‘B’ grade plot filler and left the whole thing half baked. If you have read the book, tread carefully, or go into the series knowing that this is an unfaithful adaptation of the book. More importantly, if you haven’t read the book, you will find this to be a fun and nudity filled romp through the cyberpunk genre.