What will happen in the future, when we can disconnect our minds from our bodies?
The science fiction novel by Richard K. Morgan and its Netflix adaptation, Altered Carbon, takes a unique approach to this question. It presents us with a bleak vision of what life would be like if we could achieve immortality by discarding our current bodies in favor of new ones, over and over again. In this fictional future, a person’s consciousness is stored in their “stack,” the hardware that they can then “sleeve” in a new body.
Of course, this is a business, and a new body is a luxury not everyone can afford. But the wealthiest are able to transfer their stacks into clones specially grown for them. Being able to pick and choose what you’ll look is more than a fashion statement, as looking a certain way can also help you get ahead in life.
The protagonist Takeshi Kovacs is re-sleeved in a new body after spending over 200 years in cryosleep. He’s then tasked with solving the murder of a “meth” — a Methuselah, named after the character in the Bible who lived 1,000 years. This meth, Laurens Bancroft, has been re-sleeved in a new clone of himself, but he has no memory of the murder of his former body — he must have been killed just before his stack was backed up.
I’ve already reviewed the book here, and I won’t be reviewing it or the Netflix television series here. What I’m more interested in is looking at how the story explores our connection with the human body.