Exclusive: 'Altered Carbon' writer Richard K. Morgan shares cyberpunk secrets in new graphic novel 'One Life, One Death'

Writer Richard K. Morgan returns to the world of Takeshi Kovacs in the new graphic novel "Altered Carbon: One Life, One Death."
Writer Richard K. Morgan returns to the world of Takeshi Kovacs in the new graphic novel "Altered Carbon: One Life, One Death." (Image credit: Dynamite Entertainment)

British sci-fi author Richard K. Morgan is blazing a trail back to the near-future dystopia he created in his award-winning trio of "Altered Carbon" novels with another original graphic novel that expands the cyberpunk saga of the enhanced ex-Envoy Takeshi Kovacs. 

Heralding from Dynamite Entertainment, "Altered Carbon: One Life One Death" arrived March 2 with writer Scott Bryan Wilson (“Nancy Drew & the Hardy Boys”) and artist Max Fuchs (“Halcyon Days”) joining Morgan for the wild 120-page ride.

This is Dynamite's second graphic novel project from Morgan, after 2019's "Altered Carbon: Download Blues," co-written by Rik Hoskin ("White Sand") and paired with art by Ferran Sellares ("Grimm Fairy Tales").

Altered Carbon: One Life, One Death by Richard K. Morgan: $25 at Amazon

Altered Carbon: One Life, One Death by Richard K. Morgan: $25 at Amazon
The long-lived Takeshi Kovacs rides again in Richard K. Morgan's Altered Carbon: One Life, One Death.

In a world where immortality is attainable, "Altered Carbon's" 24th-century tech has advanced to the point where human consciousness can be stored digitally in disc-shaped cortical stacks. In the event of death or murder, stacks can be transferred into fresh bodies called "sleeves."

The hard-boiled protagonist of the franchise is Takeshi Kovacs, mainly played by Joel Kinnaman and Anthony Mackie in two seasons of Netflix’s "Altered Carbon" TV series from 2018 and 2020. He's a dangerous ex-assassin now turned freelance enforcer with ungraded psychological skills and uncanny abilities to detect impulses and motivational intentions.

In "One Life, One Death," Kovacs finds himself imprisoned not only in jail, but within a weakened body and missing a major swath of memories. Everything heats up as he learns that former squad members have been sold to one of the richest people in the universe, causing him to swear vengeance. As he careens through fight after fight across the stars, an avalanche of secrets will redefine everything he knows about his past and his future.

Space.com connected with Morgan to learn how he leaped back into Kovacs' reseleeved nightmare, how he stays inspired by sci-fi, what "Altered Carbon" fans can expect from this hardback graphic novel, and whether there's still hope for a Season 3 at Netflix or elsewhere.

Space.com: Can you take us on a speed run of the plot for this upcoming release?

Richard K. Morgan: Well, I don't want to run any major spoilers here, but the basic premise is that Kovacs ends up in a High Impact Punishment facility — a kind of future analogue of the Military/Industrial complex's CIA's black sites — and has to figure out not only how to get out, but also what it is in his past that has led to him being there. I think that theme — the Past Comes Calling — tends to crop up a lot in my work. It’s in stark contrast to the standard issue YA Rite-of-Passage storyline, in which the protagonist starts from zero, young and fresh and learning life; I confess those kinds of protagonists have always left me cold. 

I find that the younger and more inexperienced a character is, the less interesting they're likely to be. In the end, we are what we’ve seen and done, and when you're young you've seen and done very little. I much prefer a character who’s been marked by life, who has scars and regrets, a backstory with depth and texture. Only natural that "One Life, One Death" would be that kind of story.

Space.com: How do Scott and Max's creative contributions enhance this new Kovacs adventure?

Morgan: Well, the story is pretty much entirely Scott's creation — I'm really only there to provide world-building continuity and to suggest the odd narrative wrinkle — so his impact has been massive! He's brought a whole new grim level to the basic conceit of sleeving. And Max has just been a natural match for material — his work has a blunt physicality that suits Kovacs down to the ground, and weaves in perfectly with Scott's bodyshock horror dynamics. It's been a privilege to work with them both.

Space.com: After all these years exploring and expanding the "Altered Carbon" world, what keeps you interested and inspired?

Morgan: I think if there's enough depth to an IP, you can potentially tell an unlimited number of stories in that universe. You can unpack this or that aspect of the character, their past, the wider contexts. And of course the sleeving technology gives characters some very extended lifespans, with all the messy past that implies. There's always somewhere new to go (or at least revisit).  

That said, I think the very real risk for any author is that you'll start to repeat yourself, which is why it's great to get new storytellers in on the project. There's no way in a million years I would have come up with the same story as Scott (or for that matter Rik in the last GN), because his obsessions, inspirations and influences are always going to be different to mine. So with a collaboration like this, you're using the same basic machinery, but to plough a whole new furrow, and that’s a lot of fun.

Space.com: Any rumblings of an "Altered Carbon" Season 3 or another animated feature?

Morgan: Sadly, I think it's safe to say that the Netflix show is put to bed, at least for the foreseeable future, and the same probably goes for any more anime spin-offs. The key issue with cyberpunk on screen is that it's expensive to make, as expensive as any SF you care to name, but because of its basic outlook — morally grey, noirishly untriumphant, fairly bleak — it just doesn't pull in the YA and Superhero crowds. That means it’s very hard for it to do the numbers that will repay all that expensive futurism and CGI.  

People tend to forget now, but "Blade Runner" was never any kind of commercial success when it came out — too downbeat, too existential, maybe in the end just too thoughtful — and we saw the exact same dynamic play out with the sequel.  

Cyberpunk endures at the book level because the cost of me inventing a CP world on the page (or for that matter in a graphic novel) is so much lower than the kind of budgets high end screen entertainment demands. Of course, you can keep your fingers crossed for a reboot at some point, but for now I think you'll have to content yourself with the novels and the GNs. So savour them well! :-)

Dynamite Entertainment's "Altered Carbon: One Life, One Death" launched in stores March 2. It's available at Amazon for $25.

Join our Space Forums to keep talking space on the latest missions, night sky and more! And if you have a news tip, correction or comment, let us know at: community@space.com.

Jeff Spry
Contributing Writer

Jeff Spry is an award-winning screenwriter and veteran freelance journalist covering TV, movies, video games, books, and comics. His work has appeared at SYFY Wire, Inverse, Collider, Bleeding Cool and elsewhere. Jeff lives in beautiful Bend, Oregon amid the ponderosa pines, classic muscle cars, a crypt of collector horror comics, and two loyal English Setters.