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Broken Angels Review and Clues to Altered Carbon Season 2

broken angels 2

In preparation for Altered Carbon Season 2, this past weekend I finished reading Broken Angels. I highly recommend you read the first novel that started it all, Altered Carbon, as there are some changes between the novel and Laeta Kalogridis’ Netflix adaptation, which I have talked about previously.

The Prequel: Altered Carbon

In case you’re unfamiliar, Altered Carbon is a Cyberpunk novel a-la hardboiled noir detective style, with lead Takeshi Kovacs whose consciousness, which is being digitally stores on a small circular disk called a stack, has been inserted into a human body “sleeve” in order to solve the mystery of the murder of an ultra-wealthy long-living man called Laurens Bancroft. Since in this world people can die but have their stacks stored in the cloud to download into other sleeves, Laurens has hired Takeshi to solve his own murder. The subsequent story is filled with action and intrigue as it describes in detail a super-hierarchical dystopian metropolis called Bay City (formerly San Francisco).

Broken Angels is…completely different.

If Altered Carbon was a noir detective story, Broken Angels feels more like a page from the Alien franchise, such as Prometheus. Kovacs arrives on the scene of a war in the mercenary unit of Carrera’s Wedge. In order to escape the bloody brutality of the conflict, he partners up with Schneider in order to find an archaelogue called Wardani in order to open a portal to a Martian dreadnought deep in space. No one knows much about the Martians, except that they were technologically superior and they disappeared, leaving behind all kinds of curious relics.

So how much of this will be in Season 2?

It’s been reported from Kalogridis that Season 2 of Altered Carbon probably won’t feature much from this book, since it takes place in such diverse places that it would be very costly to produce. However, Broken Angels has Carrera as the main antagonist, whose character is confirmed to be in Season 2 from the casting video released earlier this year, so this is a good book to get acquainted with the villain and understand why exactly he might have such a big beef with Kovacs. However, they also reported Danica Harlan, who is the main antagonist (sort of) in book 3 (Woken Furies), so it may be a mix of both. If the report from Radio Times is true that season 2 will be exploring identity and gender fluidity more, then it won’t be drawing its source material from Broken Angels, since there isn’t much of that present. So either it will be from Woken Furies, or Kalogridis will just deviate from the subject material entirely.

Revisiting Torture/Brutality

The book itself was very fun to read, and surprisingly linear. Unlike Altered Carbon with a wide plethora of different characters and intrigue and things happening at the same time, Woken Furies follows Kovacs slowly add members to his team one at a time. First with Schneider, then Wardani, then Hand (the corporate benefactor of the expedition) and finally the support team of about 8 or so special ops members they bring back from the dead.

The Mystery of the Martians

Like the first book, there are scenes in this book that felt very imaginative in its brutality. One of my complaints about both the book and the series Altered Carbon is the virtual reality torture scene. A similar scene happens in this book, which makes me wonder why Morgan decides to put these parts in. The mystery of what happened to the Martians and who/what they were was very interesting, and it’s a question that the book never fully answers (and rightly so).

The Disillusion of War and Soldiers

One interesting element to this book, which can be slow at times as the team waits for the portal to be opened, is in their interactions with each other. One team member, Jiang Jianping, is the idealistic soldier who doesn’t understand Kovacs’ aversion to fighting. In their discussions Kovacs is portrayed as being older and more experienced, having seen the pointless conflicts that rarely resolves more than corporate or political interests, and this was a nice introspective into why Kovacs is clearly “ex-envoy” and more mercenary than anything else. Despite being part of a mercenary unit, his choice to ultimately abandon them in order to escape the conflict is explored as well, which I enjoyed as a side-narrative to the mysterious expedition into Martian history.

Final Review: 8.5/10

Broken Angels is an excellent addition to the Kovacs trilogy, although it definitely feels like a standalone novel at the same time. Other than being a little bit more familiar with the titular Kovacs, there’s no need to read the first novel in order to read the second. I’m curious to see what the third novel entails, and if it connects at all to the first or second books. But Morgan has done an interesting thing here in shaking up his type of novel. The dialogues were interesting, the action fast, the pacing good although a little slow at times. There were moments of surprising sexual scenes like the first novel, as well as strong brutality and torture which I felt were both somewhat unnecessary. Although themes of the meaning of war and the role of soldiers who fight in them is explored a bit, there isn’t a lot of deep discussions in this novel. It really feels like a Cyberpunk version of Prometheus, without the Xenomorphs but with added dark tech. Still, very interesting, enjoyable, and I look forward to seeing what Woken Furies has in store.

NSFW animated anthology Love, Death & Robots coming to Netflix

It’s being hailed as “the next best thing since the Animatrix”, and judging by the cut-up slices of what we can glimpse from the trailer, I believe it. The Animatrix was revolutionary and visionary, an amazing mix of different artists and different views connected by the unifying theme of The Matrix as subject content. Love, Death & Robots looks like it’s less thematically connected, but it’s taking the animated anthology concept to the next level, and finding the proper home it deserves on Netflix. Coming from Tim Miller (Deadpool, Terminator: Dark Fate) and David Fincher (Mindhunter), the anthology promises “sentient dairy products, werewolf soldiers, robots gone wild, garbage monsters, cyborg bounty hunters, alien spiders and blood-thirsty demons from hell – all converge in 18 NSFW animated stories”.

Check out the teaser trailer for yourself and get back to me, because it’s that good. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

Take a look at the variety of different formats here! Just like in Animatrix, we have 2D and 3D formats in both anime and full CGI. Apparently the full list will include 5-15 minute segments broaching the topics of racism, government, war, free will, and human nature, and provided from filmmakers from Hungary, France, Canada, Korea, and more. The anthology will be made available on Netflix March 15th, so this is the next Cyberpunk media content to put on your calendars after seeing Battle Angel Alita this weekend!


Cowboy Bebop: Genre-bending Classic Anime with Cyberpunk elements

This is a review and brief analysis of Cowboy Bebop. There seems to be a lot of discussion in the Cyberpunk realm regarding whether Cowboy Bebop counts as Cyberpunk or not. But first, a little bit about the anime itself.

After having seen it often referenced and after having been recommended to me multiple times by various friends, I finally took the time to watch the entirety of Cowboy Bebop’s 26-episode series.

Unfortunately, part of that experience was marked by my move to France, which resulted in me watching the first half of the series in English, and the second half in French. Good thing I can speak French! Although I do feel like the difference in language  changes the experience a bit.

Anyways, Cowboy Bebop is an anime that aired in 1998-1999 directed by Shinichiro Watanabe, written by Keiko Nobumoto, and with music by Yoko Kanno. The story centers around a team of bounty hunters that are aboard the spaceship Bebop, comprised initially of Spike (the main character of the series) and Jet, a jaded ex-cop. Later characters that join them on the Bebop include Faye, a flighty hustler who uses her sensuality to her advantage, Edward, a childlike wacky ace-hacker, and Ein, a Pembroke Welsh Corgi with human-like intelligence.

Each episode is able to stand alone, with a loose plot centered on Spike’s departure from the mob and his past that eventually comes back to haunt him. This theme repeats itself with Jet, Faye, and Ed, as many episodes are centered on having them explore their past as well.

The beauty of this series lies in its relaxed form of asking philosophical questions paired with its jazzy music, which results in the effect of combining a lot of different genres into one, making the anime a truly fun genre-bending experience. Loneliness and purpose are explored a lot, as well as the importance of the past in how it shapes someone in the present.

I personally really enjoyed Cowboy Bebop. The stand alone quality of the show allowed me to stop watching and pick up whenever I wanted, which was great. However, after being treated to different shows on Netflix and elsewhere where each episode really builds on each other, I felt that my interest lower than other shows I’ve watched, which also included what I felt was a somewhat anticlimactic ending.

One thing I did like was how different each character was from each other. Going into the anime without knowing anything about it, I was always surprised when a new member joined the crew and actually stuck with them until the end.

The style of the crew, of all characters they encounter, of the different worlds they visit, it’s all very interesting. Some episodes are more cyberpunk than others, with tvs controlling minds (a la Snowcrash) or hacking issues, or AI that seem like they’re humans but aren’t. There is also definitely a punk element with these bounty hunters who live paycheck to paycheck, often going hungry or running out of fuel, but always trying to catch their bounty in their own way and sometimes pissing off the authorities in doing so.

Do yourself a favor and watch this anime, and then check out the great music from the series as well. Describing it will only go so far. I’d give it  9/10 as an anime, but I wouldn’t quite qualify it as a cyberpunk anime since there are too many other elements in it at the same time.


Altered Carbon: Netflix Series and Book Review

Altered Carbon is a 2018 Netflix television series from Laeta Kalogridis (Alexander, Shutter Island) based on the 2002 novel of the same name by author Richard K Morgan. The first season of the series and first novel of the Takeshi Kovacs trilogy are about a dystopian future set in 2384 where consciousness and memories are kept on small metal discs, called cortical stacks, that are implanted into the stem of the vertebrae in humans when they are young. When any human dies, their cortical stack can be put into another body such that the human consciousness can live on, but if their stack is also destroyed, this would result in a permanent death. However, this also means that certain humans with enough wealth can effectively live forever, through the use of human clones and uploading their consciousness to a cloud server via satellite. These elite god-like humans are called Meths, in reference to Methuselah who according to the myth lived 1000 years.

The series centers around Takeshi Kovacs, the last remaining elite soldier of the envoys, a rebel group who were defeated in trying to rise up against the new world order. The  the story starts when one particularly wealthy meth, Laurens Bancroft, decides to take Takeshi’s stack out of prison storage and put it into a new body 250 years after the uprising, so that Takeshi may solve the mystery of Laurens’ own (body) death.

Fortunately, Morgan was very active in the creative process of making the Netflix series a reality, as he worked very closely with Kalogridis. Morgan was actually an ESL teacher for over a decade before he wrote and published his novel, and upon its success he quit to become a full time writer. This kind of life experience is something that I aspire to have one day as well, and is indeed quite inspiring since I’m currently an ESL teacher myself.

I should start by saying that I thoroughly enjoyed both the novel and the series, and I would recommend reading the book first before watching the movie, as there are some significant differences in both and I feel like the original should be what gives you the first impression of the story. I also feel like it’s always better to create an image of a story with your own imagination, before having someone dictate that vision for you with a visual medium.

Morgan writes very well, with a great handle on pacing and with excellent action and story line to keep you hooked. Be warned, however, because the plot will be a little confusing (at least, it was for me) as the mystery slowly unfolds itself and will keep you guessing who murdered Laurens. I should also mention that this is definitely an adult book, with some surprisingly graphic sexual scenes written in, which is something new for me in reading a science fiction novel.

The TV series is also very good, but I felt personally that it leaned a little too hard on violence and sexually explicit scenes. It also chose to critically change some main characters which leads to a significantly different ending, one that I felt wasn’t as strong as the novel, but also that somehow was more fleshed out if that makes sense. In some ways the TV series feels like 1.5 books, compared to the 1st book by Morgan, which actually makes sense since Kalogridis decided to put more content in the first season out of fear that the series wouldn’t be renewed, and because she felt there was too much good content to ignore in books 2 and 3 from Morgan.

If you’re a fan of this genre, but feel like you only want to either read it or watch it, I would urge you to reconsider and do both for one main reason: the influence of Netflix on our society is undeniable, and that influence shouldn’t be underestimated when a big series such as Altered Carbon ends up being the big hit that it has been. The series has already gotten a myriad excellent reviews (although not being perfect), and the greenlit second season and subsequent seasons will naturally be drawing from its source material, the books, as well.

So what does this all mean?

It means that Netflix has made Altered Carbon a culturally relevant modern TV series, and subsequently also is bringing Cyberpunk into social awareness and consciousness. The stylistic choices, colors, setting, and film noir feel of Altered Carbon (both the series and the books now) are creating a new modern perception of the Cyberpunk genre for our society in real time. I would venture to say it even has more of an effect than standalone movies such as Blade Runner 2049 or Ghost in the Shell, although the recent increase in Cyberpunk movies just further points to the growing trend that Cyberpunk is quickly becoming mainstream, something that industry favorite Neon Dystopia is quick to mention here and here.

So take the time to enjoy a great series and a great book. I am still trying to get my hands on book 2 and 3 of the Takeshi Kovacs trilogy. Altered Carbon tackles some great existential themes, such as the effect of money on society and the meaning of identity in a world where bodies are expendable sleeves, consciousness can be copied and downloaded, and laws grapple with religion and justice (such as it being illegal to put a stack of a Christian into a new body, even if the previous body was murdered and only that stack can pinpoint who the murderer was in a court of law).

Futuristic weapons, culture, and society, confused senses of identity and self as they relate to new technology, cyber enhancements, neurochemical stimulants, drugs, gangs, Artificial Intelligence and immoral business practices, Altered Carbon is the modern Cyberpunk series that our world needs. I give the novel 10/10, and the TV series 9/10, notching it one point for its gratuitous sexual scenes and violence.

If you’ve read or watched them, please let me know what you thought in the comments below!