The premise is Takeshi Kovacs is now a Lieutenant in the private military company of Carrera's Wedges. He's well-liked by everyone, which is somewhat mystifying since he's an absolutely awful military commander who snubs the men under his command as well as his superiors constantly. Blame it on Envoy training, I guess. After a particularly nasty battle, he's approached by a pilot named Schneider who claims to have a lead on a intact Martian spaceship that could elevate humanity's technological capacity by centuries.
Forming a ragtag bunch of misfits from soldiers waiting to be re-sleeved (essentially, resurrected), he rescues a lovely archaeologist from a prison camp and heads after the ultimate prize. It's a good book, halfway between Three Kings and Apocalypse Now in Space. However, it does have one flaw: Takeshi Kovacs is a completely unlikable *******. It's always a balance with antiheroes as you never want to make them so awful the audience doesn't care what happens to them or too good as it costs them their edge. Here, Takeshi's actions really undermine the idea we should give a **** what happens to him.
His constant betrayals, put-downs of anyone who believes in anything, and the fact he's solely motivated by money in an exceptionally brutal civil war make you question why we should care whether he succeeds or not. By the end, when he's engaged in a murderous rampage of retribution, I was actually hoping someone grabbed his stack (cybernetic memory recorder) and fried it.
Personally, I don't think Richard Morgan meant to create a villain protagonist but I think he successfully did so. I don't mind a good villain protagonist either which is part of what I think the point of this book is. To quote J.R.R Tolkien: "We were all orcs in the Great War." Takeshi Kovacs just wants out of the conflict on Sanction IV and he's willing to kill anybody he has to in order to do it. That's perhaps not the most sympathetic of goals but it is certainly an understandable one.
Richard K. Morgan has a engrossing horrific vision of war in the future. The savagery of conflict coupled with new and terrifying technological devices. It's a sobering idea that you can have a massive technological like the corporations and their mercenaries do but none of this will make the slightest bit of difference if the enemy is sufficiently determined. Neither side is portrayed as justified with atrocities having built up on both sides. The characters are all well-developed with the only problem I had being it was sometimes difficult to keep up with all of them thanks to the large number of Takeshi's recruits.
I will say the romance, if you can call it that, between Takeshi and Tanya is more compelling than the one between Takeshi and Kristan Ortega in the original novel. After rescuing her from the prison camp, Takeshi manages to help treat her PTSD with Envoy techniques but it results in her falling in a mixture of love and lust with him. We get to see how sex is affected by perfectly simulated virtual reality as well as how mutable loyalties can be with Envoy training. I also think she was an extremely compelling character and ranks with the religious corporate Matthias Hand as two of my favorites in the series.
Do I recommend this book as much as Altered Carbon? Not quite. I think it has some benefits over the original like better sex scenes and a more powerful backdrop with the war but Takeshi is less likable in this environment while the other characters tend to be sleazier. In a very real way, solving a Methuselah's murder is more compelling than finding a lost piece of Martian space junk. Still, I very much enjoyed the book and am glad I read it.