I recently read this sci-fi/crime novel and it is quite excellent. 5 centuries in the future, humans have spread to many star systems under the rule of the UN. A key technology is the “cortical stack” a small information storage device which records a person’s brain pattern. If the body is killed, the person can be “re-sleeved” in a new (or cloned) body. Only when the cortical stack is destroyed (or infected by a virus) does “real death” occur (except for Catholics who refuse to allow re-sleeving on religious grounds). Interstellar travel is slow and inexpensive but FTL communication is easy. The UN does not maintain big fleets or standing armies. Instead, the UN controls society by sending “Envoys”, specially trained soldier/diplomat/spies whose brain patterns are beamed into trouble spots, to be resleeved into available bodies. However, the training, the combat, the dangerous missions and the constant re-sleeving into new bodies is very taxing on Envoys: many of them turn to crime after they finish their service. Also, on Earth, life-extension technology has allowed the super rich (called Meths, after Methusaleh) to stay alive for centures, amassing ever more wealth and power.
The story revolves around Takeshi Kovacs, a former Envoy gone bad, who is serving a sentence “on stack” (ie in storage on a mainframe in lieu of prison) for “organic damage” (ie killing people’s bodies but not the cortical stack). He is taken out of storage and retained as a private investigator by Laurent Bancroft, a wealthy Meth in the Bay Area. Bancroft has died recently, a real death complete with total destruction of his cortical stack. The only reason Bancroft is still alive is that he is rich enough to have himself backed up every 2 days. But he’s lost 2 days of his life and he doesn’t know why or how he died. The police have written it off as a suicide but Bancroft denies that: he worries that he’s under threat and that the killer may strike again, in such a way that having a back-up won’t matter. Even worse, Bancroft fears the killing was an inside job. Bancroft hires Kovacs to look into things, with an offer of commuting his sentence and freeing Kovac’s lover from stack storage as well.
Kovacs starts poking around, and of course things are not what they seem. There’s corruption inside and outside the operation, rogue cops, plenty of criminals, a vast conspiracy, some hacking fun, plenty of hard boiled dialogue and lots of action, including multiple real-deaths.
I really enjoyed this book: it mixed hard boiled crime fiction with science fiction almost seamlessly and featured some very good writing, along with some great dialogue. An interesting sidelight is that Kovacs is from a world settled by a mix of Japanese and Polish settlers. Kovacs is a “Quellist” a believer in the philosopher/poet Quell who espoused a weird but intriguing mix of anti-authoritarian/anarchist ideas with Zen Buddhism. A couple of the best lines and best scenes in the book are riffs on Quellist philosophy. Also the mix of moments of zen calm with frantic action reminded me of one of my favorite 80s sci-fi books, Voice of the Whirlwind by Walter Jon Williams.
Overall, a Sharpe recommendation, if you like either sci-fi or crime novels. If you like both, this is a must read.