Saturday, February 10, 2018

Should I Keep Watching Netflix's "Altered Carbon"?

World of Altered Carbon
I’m still thinking about it.

Aside from the excessive violence and gore that for inexplicable reasons seem to be the norm for SFF on TV and the too-obvious rif on Bladerunner, there are aspects that intrigue. Mostly to do with the premise—which is not particularly original, but is treated with some originality. I have to admit that part of the attraction of "Altered Carbon" is its rich pastiche of world building; a world of “cyberpunk aesthetic [that] feels like a '90s anime brought to life…and an intriguing exploration of where digital consciousness could take us,” says engadget. They go on to describe the premise of the show: “In Altered Carbon, death is obsolete. Physical bodies are merely containers, or "sleeves," used for hosting "cortical stacks," futuristic storage devices that hold your memories and consciousness. If your body dies, your stack (assuming it hasn't been destroyed) can easily be moved over to a different sleeve. They plug into slots at the back of your neck, in a nod to the Matrix.”

The premise of potential immortality (only for the rich “meths” [short for Methuselah] who can afford it, of course) provides an opportunity for discourse of humanity’s use or abuse of such a gift. And the question of whether we deserve to live “forever” and what that would mean.

Quelcrist Falconer
To this always intriguing question, rebel Quellcrist Falconer (played by Renee Elise Goldsberry), in Episode 7 finally provides something of substance worth watching—and discussing. Quell tells the group that they are not fighting the Protectorate (the goon army that serves the wealthy and powerful) but immortality itself:

“The creation of stacks was a miracle and the beginning of the destruction of our species. A hundred years from now I can see what we will become. And it’s not human: a new class of people, so wealthy and powerful, they answer to no one and cannot die. Death was the ultimate safeguard against the darkest angels of our nature. Now the monsters among us will own everything, consume everything, control everything. They will make themselves gods and us slaves…If we do not stop the curse of eternal life in our realm, our children will inherit despair. The ebb and flow of life is what makes us all equal in the end.”

Protectorate, goon squad of the powerful elite
Admitting to Takeshi that it was she in fact who invented the stacks, Quell shares:

“I wanted to be an explorer, to see other worlds with my own eyes… I found a way to transfer the human consciousness between bodies and in that creation soar; suddenly anyone could travel distances beyond imagination…and no one would ever be limited by one lifetime again.” Then she draws upon the metaphor of Rome, a town of refugee cattle herders that became the most powerful empire of ancient Earth because of its roads—the technology that let them send their armies all over the world. “I thought I was freeing the human spirit,” she says, “but I was building the roads for Rome. Eternal life for those who can afford it, which means eternal control over those who can’t. That is the gift I gave humanity.” Which is why she is hell-bent on destroying the stack technology.

Takeshi Kovacs
And yet, our main protagonist (hero), Takeshi Kovacs, is introduced early on as a chain-smoking, ill-considerate and disrespectful AH who, after being politely asked not to smoke, consistently lights up and blows noxious smoke into who’s ever face he is talking to. Clearly introducing one of the many paradoxes of the show: a disrespectful uncaring hero who fights to maintain compassion and kindness in humanity.

Then again, isn’t paradox part of our humanity? I write about this myself in my upcoming book “A Diary in the Age of Water.”

I suppose that is what we are. So, for now, I'll keep watching... 

Nina MunteanuNina Munteanu is an ecologist, limnologist and internationally published author of award-nominated speculative novels, short stories and non-fiction. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit for the latest on her books.

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