This book is legendary among cyberpunk fans, I do not really count myself among them as I have read too little from this sub-genre to qualify. However, it is very frequently recommended in the excellent PrintSF
forum I frequent. A few years ago I went through a phase of reading crime fiction almost exclusively because I felt like a change from decades of reading sf/f. One of the best practitioners of crime fiction is Michael Connelly, whose most famous creation is detective Harry Bosch. If Mr. Connelly had put Detective Bosch in space (and cyberspace) he may have ended up with something like Altered Carbon (if he is lucky).
Altered Carbon takes place in a universe where human personalities can be digitized and transfer to different bodies (called sleeves), artificial or natural but unoccupied. Takeshi Kovacs' consciousness was in storage when he suddenly finds himself in a stranger's body and tasked with solving a mystery for a millionaire whose life was recently restored from backup after he has apparently committed suicide. His backed up consciousness has no memory of this alleged suicide because it occurs after the backup was made and he insists that he is not the suicidal type.
The story is not difficult to get into due to its linear timeline and a single first-person narrative. It took me a while to warm up to the protagonist Kovacs because like most fictional hard boiled detectives he is pain in the nether regions until you get to know him. The other characters are interesting enough without leaving much of an impression, one exception being an AI character named after a legendary guitar hero.
Richard K. Morgan's prose seems more American than English, which surprised me a bit given that he is British, but the style goes with noir territory I suppose. The prose style is in the tradition of Raymond chandler / Dashiell Hammett. Visceral and lean with the occasional surprising passages of contemplative and even lyrical narration. The nature of "the self" and reality is thoughtfully ruminated upon.
I have read several reviews that mentioned that this book would make a great action film, one review even describes it as a Schwarzenegger film. This may well be the case if they cut out all the thoughtful elements and just concentrate on blowing shit up real good. I wonder how pleased the author would feel with that?
I would rate this novel at 4.6 stars, it does not quite reach the emotional core for me (though it is not far off), it falls just a little short in the poignancy department. Still, it is a fantastic sf book with plenty of food for thought and I would not hesitate to recommend it to anyone in search of an excellent sci-fi read. Note: This book makes me question the "immortality by cloning" sf trope. The idea is understandable but somehow does not jibe with me. There is an interesting discussion of the idea here.
I just realised that I have not touched upon how virtual reality is cleverly used in the book as an interrogation tool, now I don't know where to discreetly fit it into the review!