Book review: Altered Carbon by Richard K Morgan

Altered Carbon (Takeshi Kovacs, #1)Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Invent technology to make interstellar travel possible. Use it to make rich people immortal.

Takeshi Kovacs is a former elite soldier – Envoy – who becomes a criminal on Harlan’s World and has his body killed. Thanks to the technology of stored consciousness – via cortical stacks – he is revived on Earth to solve the body death of one of the richest men on the planet. The police think Bancroft committed suicide, the evidence suggests suicide, but Bancroft is convinced he wouldn’t kill himself after centuries of living. Kovacs starts treading through the underbelly of Earth and tries to discover if it was suicide or murder.

Altered Carbon has been on my TBR pile for almost a decade. My uncle recommended it again a few years ago, which got it bumped up the list. But, as with all TBR piles, it took a TV adaptation to get the novel read. I enjoyed the TV series, particularly on a second viewing. I’d say I enjoyed the book a similar amount but in a different way.

I commented in a blog post about the show that I enjoyed the themes even if the aesthetic was borrowed from Blade Runner. Kovacs in the show is a grumpier and more adept character than the novel. The show also has a more personal feel to many of the characters and makes the female characters feel less like a description of sexy body parts. Pretty amazing given the amount of nudity in the show.

What I think I liked most about the novel was one of the themes. Morgan expressed it like this:

“Society is, always has been and always will be a structure for the exploitation and oppression of the majority through systems of political force dictated by an élite, enforced by thugs, uniformed or not, and upheld by a wilful ignorance and stupidity on the part of the majority whom the system oppresses.” Source.

This resonated with me given the sorts of non-fiction I’ve been reading lately. Not to mention some of the things happening in the world these days… It made this hard-boiled cyberpunk novel very entertaining.

Well worth reading before or after watching the TV show.*

A couple of quotes related to that theme:

“Kristin, nothing ever does change.” I jerked a thumb back at the crowd outside. “You’ll always have morons like that, swallowing belief patterns whole so they don’t have to think for themselves. You’ll always have people like Kawahara and the Bancrofts to push their buttons and cash in on the program. People like you to make sure the game runs smoothly and the rules don’t get broken too often. And when the Meths want to break the rules themselves, they’ll send people like Trepp and me to do it. That’s the truth, Kristin. It’s been the truth since I was born a hundred and fifty years ago and from what I read in the history books, it’s never been any different. Better get used to it.”

“You live that long, things start happening to you. You get too impressed with yourself. Ends up, you think you’re God. Suddenly the little people, thirty, maybe forty years old, well, they don’t really matter anymore. You’ve seen whole societies rise and fall, and you start to feel you’re standing outside it all, and none of it really matters to you. And maybe you’ll start snuffing those little people, just like picking daisies, if they get under your feet.”

* Is it accurate to call them TV shows now? We watch them on TV, but would it be more accurate to call them streaming shows since they aren’t made for TV networks?

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Book vs movie: Pet Cemetary – What’s the Difference?

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It was inevitable that someone in Hollywood would try to reanimate the corpse of yet another classic film. So with the upcoming release of the remake of Pet Cemetary, what better time for CineFix to discuss the original book and movie in What’s the Difference?

Pet Cemetary is one of the many books lingering on my shelf in the TBR pile. While I have decided that this year will involve a concerted effort to make a dent in said pile*, it is unlikely I’ll get to read this novel anytime soon. If I’m completely honest, I want to read The Stand first.

What about the movie, I hear you ask. Back when I was a young lad – walking the obligatory 10 miles (whatever a mile is in real measurements) to school through 10 feet of snow (why would there be feet in snow?) after working 10 hours at the coal mine – Stephen King novels and movies were all the rage. Whether it was Needful Things, Carrie, Misery, Lawnmower Man, IT, or Children of the Corn, there always seemed to be someone bringing a Stephen King VHS** to watch. And after my hard lesson learnt with IT, I tried to avoid the obviously scary films – hence I have seen Lawnmower Man and most of Needful Things, but not Children of the Corn.

At this point, I probably sound like a wimp. It is odd that I generally don’t find horror novels that bad, and even movies with horror elements are fine. But movies whose goal is to creep you out or gross you out (think Saw franchise or Hostel) just aren’t for me, particularly the latter. It’s a little hard to be entertained by that sort of thing.

Yes, yes, more excuses as to why I haven’t read or watched something. Don’t worry, plenty of horror in my TBR pile. Stay tuned.

*I’ve managed to read one from the pile and added two more to it this month. That counts as progress, right?

**VHS, that’s right. I am truly that old.

Book vs Movie: The Lost World – What’s the Difference?

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This month’s What’s the Difference from Cinefix compares the book sequel written because the movie adaptation was successful and the director wanted more source material to ignore. Jurassic Park: The Lost World.

Honestly, I can never keep it straight in my head which parts of the novels ended up in which movie. As mentioned in the video, the opening scene of The Lost World was actually from the first book. There are other examples, like the “birdcage” scene in one of the other movies was in the first book… I think.

One thing is for certain: Spielberg knows how to make a film. He knows how to build tension, he knows how to establish sights, sounds, and characters so that sequences hang together, and he knows not to have a talking dinosaur in an aeroplane.

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Yes, this is an actual scene from Jurrasic Park 3. Take a moment.

But The Lost World is an example of one the worst reasons you write or film a sequel: because the first one was successful. I don’t know exactly what Spielberg’s motivations were for the sequel – maybe he was under contract, maybe he needed a new wing on his house – but the film was dull. It was trying to recapture the lightning bottled in the first film. The same can be said of the book. Crichton didn’t originally want to write a sequel and was only convinced by Spielberg saying he’d give him lots of money that he would be keen to direct a movie adaptation of the sequel if one were written.

I’m on record as not being much of a fan of Michael Crichton’s books. He has a tendency to write solid thrillers that act as vehicles for anti-science rants by a raisonneur or mouthpiece. There is nothing wrong with doing this, per se, but science is awesome, so make sure your criticism is on point. Or don’t, depending on whether you want to impress me or someone who thinks chakras are a thing.

Needless to say, I was a fan of the first film, less so the book. The sequels… Put it this way, I haven’t bothered watching the new ones starring Chris Pratt yet.

Book vs Movie: When the Book Is Better

'We are making a film of the book.'

PBS Digital Studios have a new video series It’s Lit! which is part of The Great American Read, an eight-part series that explores and celebrates the power of reading. Featuring one of the premiere video essayists in Lindsay Ellis, this series should be brilliant.

The first video briefly discusses a topic I’ve frequently discussed here, what makes a good adaptation and why the book is so often regarded as better.

Lindsay has very concisely summarised why movies so often don’t make for good or faithful adaptations of the source material. But she also touches on why they can sometimes improve the book, or make an adaptation that uses the source material in an interesting way to tell a different story.

If you aren’t already subscribed to Lindsay or PBS Digital Studios, you may want to do so now.

Book vs Movie: Oldboy – What’s the Difference?

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This month in CineFix’s series What’s the Difference? they cover Oldboy. Live octopus not included.

Not having read the Manga, I don’t really have much to add to the above video. The film is amazing. It redefined “off-the-wall” and managed to make it compelling watching.

Let’s not talk about the Spike Lee remake. Because it wasn’t very good. Although, because it is an American adaptation of a South Korean adaptation of a Japanese work, it can be interesting in an intercultural sense. This article is very interesting in that regard.

Best Adaptations of All Time?

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In keeping with my monthly series of posts on book adaptations – Book vs Movie – I thought I’d share this CineFix video as my last post before the Festive Break. They cover a lot of great adaptations, even mentioning a few I was unaware were adaptations.

Thanks to my readers and commenters for dropping by this year. I hope you all enjoy whatever Holiday tradition you celebrate. Best wishes from me to you.

Now let’s argue over whether this video has missed any of our favourite movies based upon books.

Book vs Movie: Silence of the Lambs – What’s the Difference?

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Do you prefer a Chianti or an Amarone to accompany human liver and fava beans? This month CineFix ask the question in their What’s the Difference? on Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris.

I’m going to be controversial here and say that the movie, Silence of the Lambs, was better than the book. That’s right. I’ll give you some time to warm up the tar and pluck the chickens.

That isn’t to say that the novel is bad, far from it. In my original reviews of Red Dragon and Silence of the Lambs, I noted that they were great stories, very interesting and layered (thematically, compositionally, etc), and gave us a charismatic villain for the history books. But I wasn’t a fan of the writing. Some passages were on point, especially some of the dialogue that was pretty much lifted straight into the movie, but other parts felt like they were letting down the team.

Compare that with the cinematic classic and you can see which one stands taller. The themes, particularly the sexism, are more subtle yet more omnipresent (camera angles and shot staging vs inner monologue). The tone of the film is brought to life, and how could it not be with Anthony Hopkins’ Lecter exuding menace and demonic magnetism, and the brilliant cinematography – the night vision scene is unmatched.

It’s a pity none of the movie sequels managed to capture the same magic. I’m yet to read the rest of the Hannibal Lecter novels, so it would be interesting to hear if they managed to continue the magic, or if they slowly drained of life with each thin slice.

Why The Hobbit Sucks

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Before anyone starts, I’ve always thought The Hobbit sucked. I was never a fan of the book, so even a semi-faithful movie adaptation was going to underwhelm me. But there are lessons to be learned by writers (and readers) from The Hobbit movies.

Recently I had a series of posts (1, 2, 3) about The Lord of the Rings movie adaptations, in which I discussed how much I enjoyed them. The movies managed to be awesome and cut out the long waffly bits. The movies were better than the book. But what about the 3 movie adaptation of the 1 book story? Well, here’s a 6 video discussion of the 3 movie adaptation of the 1 book story!

Just Write/Sage Rants dissects the flaws in The Hobbit movies. The videos highlight some of the more important aspects of storytelling and payoffs for the reader, and how they weren’t well handled.

The Characters – The Dwarves

Tensionless Action

Unresolved Plot Lines

Bad Romance

Philo$ophy of Adaptation

Comments and the Extended Editions

Book to Movie: Winter Solider – What’s the Difference?

This month’s CineFix edition of What’s the Difference cover the Ed Brubaker comic that inspired the Captain America: Winter Soldier movie.

Unlike Civil War, I managed to read the Ed Brubaker series of comics before watching the Winter Solider movie. Obviously there are a lot of differences, especially in terms of the expanded universe and “realism” of the movie world. The comics have decades of plots, sideplots, overlapping arcs from other parts of the Marvel Universe, characters, and general junk that is impossible to pack into a 2 hour movie. I actually find the way Marvel and DC have their stables of comics overlap and exist in the same universe to be annoying. The movies are starting to head that way as well, what with Age of Ultron essentially spending a third of its run time building the associated Thor, Ironman, Captain America, etc, movies.

One of the differences not really covered in the CineFix video is the other Captain Americas. That’s right, several other Caps wore the…. cap. Anyway, while Steve Rogers was chilling (Bucky too, but in a separate location) America didn’t want to lose its figurehead so they had some other people fill the role. From memory, at least one of them was integral to the plot, despite being no longer all there. This part of the plot also fed into the series that came immediately after Winter Soldier, with Bucky donning the costume and hefting the shield. For anyone about to complain about spoilers with that last sentence, try not to think about what could have happened to Steve Rogers to require Bucky to become Captain America.

In my original review for the Winter Soldier movie I commented that the writers had managed to capture Brubaker’s cold war spy story feel. They did this with very little similarities between the comic and movie. In some ways I think the movie is better, certainly I like the Steve Rogers of the film more, and they hadn’t quite gone overboard with the expanded universe stuff at that time, but in others the usual restrictions of the shorter format lessens the possible storytelling (Crossbones, the other Captain Americas, the relationships). Two very different stories were told but I still think this was a good adaptation.

Book vs Movie: V For Vendetta – What’s the difference?

In this outing for the CineFix team they have covered the classic graphic novel and movie adaptation of Alan Moore’s V For Vendetta.

So, truth be told, I’m not a huge fan of the Alan Moore graphic novel V For Vendetta – yeah, yeah, I know: sacrilege. I actually gave up on it about a third of the way through, as such, it is hard for me to compare the book to the movie. Actually, that’s not true, I can compare how entertained I was, since I enjoyed the movie and couldn’t be bothered finishing the book. That should say a lot.

Moore distancing himself from all adaptations of his work is odd, but completely understandable given it is based upon having watched* The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen movie. That was the film that caused Sean Connery to quit acting, which gives you some idea of just how bad that movie was. But you are still left with his admonishments of adaptations, like V For Vendetta or The Watchmen, that were good films (IMHO) and captured the essence of the source material. Like most of the book to movie adaptations discussed in the What’s the Difference? series, when you see the breakdowns of differences you can completely understand why the changes were made. The example in this video was of Evie’s character arc to help the audience empathise with both her and V in a shorter format. The book and movie occupy different spaces, have different constraints, and are often made at different times for society.

Which is why I find Moore’s stance – or is that complaints – on adaptations of his work to be a bit precious. I mean, he was, and I quote, “getting money for old rope” as well as a much wider exposure as an artist. He has managed to influence popular culture (The Killing Joke was the primary reference material for Heath Ledger’s portrayal of The Joker). Not much to complain about. Unless the movie studios paid him in beard trimmers.

*Being a little flippant here as he was also sued over accusations that someone else’s script was plagiarised.

Update: I rewatched V for Vendetta recently and started reading the comic again. I haven’t finished the comic, but after watching the video below, I think the sentiments expressed by Moore and Wisecrack are valid. I’m not sure if I’m just 5 years older and wiser, or if I’m just impressionable and a sound argument will sway my views.

Book review: The Martian by Andy Weir

The MartianThe Martian by Andy Weir
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Potatoes and Pirate-Ninjas: the reason you will read this book.*

I’m late to the Mark Watney appreciation society, since I only heard about this book as a result of the movie trailer. I guess at least I didn’t find out about the book after watching the movie and wondering if it was based on anything. The blurb essentially sums up the novel “Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first men to walk on the surface of Mars. Now, he’s sure he’ll be the first man to die there.” There you go, premise done.

To say I enjoyed this book is an understatement, as I usually hate novels that try to be hard sci-fi. I mean, if I want to read a physics text book I’ll grab the one on my shelf, not some of the “plausible” made up stuff that hurts my needless exposition aversion gland. So to find a hard sci-fi story that manages to be so entertaining was no small feat. The humour was a big part of the reason for the enjoyment. I felt that this addition was very important to not only the characterisation of Watney the space-nerd – because nerds are normally only funny to laugh at – but also in how too many novels would have taken the same premise far too seriously.

So now I’m looking forward to the movie. This should adapt very well to the big screen, and Matt Damon seems like a great choice for Watney. Hopefully Ridley Scott won’t go all Prometheus with The Martian and we’ll have a great adaptation.

Edit: The wonderful From Quarks to Quasars posted about the Real NASA Technology seen in The Martian. Check it out to get your geek further on.

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* Because you’ll wonder what the hell those things could possibly have to do with a book about Mars.

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Book vs Movie: Watchmen – What’s the difference

Another great breakdown of the differences between the book and the movie from Cinefix. This time it is Alan Moore’s Watchmen.

If I’m honest I’d have to say I prefer the movie over the book in this instance. I liked both, but I thought the changes they made for the movie made for better spectacle and entertainment. Obviously that wasn’t Moore’s original intention, so it is unsurprising that fans were annoyed with these changes. I felt that Snyder’s adaptation remained relatively faithful to the source material whilst also creating a film that cinema goers would enjoy. This is the hard path to tread in any adaptation: making sure the film works but remains true to the source.

Of course Snyder managed to make a film that people didn’t watch in the cinema and that fans of the book complained about. Guess there is just no pleasing some people.

Book vs Movie: Fight Club – What’s the Difference?

Another great instalment from the Cinefix team.


A point I’d make about the final chapter of the novel is that I thought the implication was that the narrator was so drugged up in the mental hospital that he wasn’t sure what was going on. And I also thought that the people with the tell-tale bruising were the Project Mayhem members implying they were waiting for him to escape so they could try again.

Also one plot point I really liked in the book was the bit about the type of explosive used, the Narrator preferring one, Tyler the other. This explained why the explosives failed and also implied that the Narrator had been able to sabotage the plan.