Altered Carbon, Netflix’s new cyberpunk drama series, feels familiar. The setting -- a velvet-dark future city, formerly San Francisco, with pops of neon light -- is reminiscent of Blade Runner, that other hardboiled future world where the limitations of mankind are tested as technology criss-crosses the boundaries of morality. In Blade Runner, humanity is forever altered with the development of replicants, genetically engineered androids that are virtually indistinguishable from biological human beings. But Altered Carbon, based on a 2002 novel by Richard K. Morgan, presents a more perilous dilemma. Instead of integrating society with human-like androids, this universe has found a way to prolong life by digitizing the soul.
But is consciousness really the soul? And if it’s digitized, what does that mean for physical bodies? Do they matter as much as we’ve been lead to believe, or are they really just shells of matter that hold no bearing on our actual selves?
These are the questions woven into Altered Carbon’s opulent tomorrow, and they carry through a 10-episode season that wrestles with a new reality. As seen through the horrified eyes of Takeshi Kovacs (Joel Kinnaman), a super-soldier once tasked with putting an end to the immoral tech that now runs rampant -- whose mind is resurrected and placed in a new body to help solve the "murder" of one of the oldest and richest men alive -- we're slowly introduced to the terrifying implications of a world where bodies are disposable and eternal life is only comfortable for those who can afford it.
Because it depicts a future that doesn't exist (yet!), the show throws a lot of tech and terminology at its audience right away, before jumping head-on into a complicated web of plot. To keep your head straight, here’s a brief guide to the important terms in Altered Carbon’s frightening world.