Altered Carbon spoilers below–for both the show, and the book!
Netflix’s Altered Carbon is a fairly faithful adaptation of Richard K. Morgan’s original book. But there are some major changes too, some of which have fans of the book up in arms.
The show’s writer, executive producer, and showrunner, Laeta Kalogridis, told io9 about one major change–the decision to leave protagonist Takeshi Kovacs in his own sleeve during the torture scene, rather than putting him in the body of a young girl.
Given how much thought clearly went into this show, we figured there must be good reasons for all the other changes, too. Why did the Envoys’ backstory change? Why was Lizzie Elliott’s role expanded so profoundly? Why does Kovacs stay at The Raven instead of The Hendrix?
It turns out Kalogridis did indeed have her reasons for making these changes, and she was kind enough to elaborate on them for GameSpot.
Jimi Hendrix, Man of Peace
That last one–why Kovacs stays at The Raven in the show instead of the book’s Hendrix–is the easiest to answer.
“[The Hendrix estate] has very specific rules about how much violence can be associated with any character that looks like Jimi Hendrix, and as you might have noticed, there’s a lot of violence [in Altered Carbon],” Kalogridis told GameSpot. “They took one look at the script–and they were very polite–and they were like, ‘We’re afraid this doesn’t really meet our standards.’ I mean, and they’re right; it does not. So we changed it.”
Why Edgar Allan Poe?
“It really was just looking at it going, ‘You know, father of the modern detective story, I mean, who can you think of who’s about as far from Jimi Hendrix as you can get–let’s just go the opposite direction!’ and that’s where Poe came from,” she said. “I just love Edgar Allan Poe. I love his writing, I love his voice–the things we could write for him that did not feel like they belonged in the future were really a great pleasure. You know, ‘Ask this of your microwave, miscreant!’ I mean, who gets to write that stuff? So fun!”
The Envoys: Rebellion or Protectorate Special Forces?
The changes to the Envoys’ backstory are more complex. In the show, Kovacs is the last remaining Envoy–a highly trained group of guerrilla rebels based on Kovacs’ home, Harlan’s World. In the book, the Envoys are a special forces branch of the U.N. Protectorate, Altered Carbon‘s galaxy-spanning government. In addition, the show combines two characters from the books–Kovacs’ Envoy leader, Virginia Vidaura, and Quellcrist Falconer, a semi-mystical historical figure who becomes more important in later books.
Kalogridis explained why: She felt she was “f***ing crazy” for trying to adapt Altered Carbon in the first place, and wasn’t confident that she’d ever get a Season 2. She didn’t want to wait until a later season to introduce Quellcrist Falconer (like the books do), so she started brainstorming ways to get Quell into Season 1.
“Once we made that decision, everything that’s in the first book, Virginia Vidaura teaching the Envoys, started to feel like Quell’s voice,” she said. “[Quell’s] uprising felt like it fit with the idea of Envoys really well, so I put the uprising and Envoys together.”
That also ties in with the fact that more time has passed since Kovacs was put on stack in the show than in the books. Quell is a historical figure, so the gap between Kovacs’ capture and his re-sleeving had to be larger. Luckily, that fit with the changes Kalogridis wanted to make regarding the Envoys.
“When you actually got down into the book itself and the way Kovacs experiences himself as such an outsider, he didn’t feel like a person from their present day,” Kalogridis said. “So I thought, ‘How much time could I put between him and then?’ And that’s when I sort of realized, well, all I really need on the Protectorate side is CTAC, which is sort of their Seal Team 6, you know–I just need some sort of assault corps with some specialized soldiers, and then Envoys [can] become a very different thing.”
“The simple answer is: It bonded him and Quell together, and it exacerbated the divide between him and the present day world,” she continued. “That’s why I did it.”
The Curious Case of Lizzie Elliott
Lastly, and possibly the biggest change from the book to the show, is the story of Lizzie Elliott. In the book, she’s a footnote–another victim of violence who never gets a chance for revenge. The show expands on her story and, by the end, makes her a major character.
“The straightforward reason was that within the book an awful lot of discussion exists around the women who are the victims of Bancroft’s violence, whether directly or indirectly. And for me, I wasn’t really interested in them having no voices, or very little voice,” Kalogridis said. “I really am not that interested in creating narratives where women don’t fight back when they are victimized or brutalized.”
For the show, she combined Lizzie’s character with a book-only character, Leila Begin, who in the book received a large cash settlement some years ago after being impregnated by Laurens Bancroft. Then Kalogridis gave Lizzie–and by extension, Leila–the opportunity for vengeance.
“The idea that there’s not going to be violence in this kind of world, that isn’t something that I feel is emotionally true or authentic to this kind of story. Noir is noir is noir. It is violent. It is dark. But what my stories do have is women who fight back, and frequently fight back successfully,” she said. “In the original novel, Kovacs goes up there [to Head in the Clouds] and wins all on his own. In the series, Lizzie saves his ass. If it weren’t for Lizzie coming up to get him, and Ortega going back for him, he wouldn’t have won. They would not have triumphed if it weren’t for the women.”
“What happens to Lizzie in the story is horrible,” she concluded. “But instead of making it kind of a backburner thing that you talk about it, we put it front and center, and then we give her a voice and a chance to change and do something about what happened to her.”
Altered Carbon is available now on Netflix. There’s been no announcement so far of a second season, but if the show does move forward, it will no doubt be interesting to see how Kalogridis continues to adapt the books.
In the meantime, check out GameSpot’s Altered Carbon review; what the show’s cast and creators think Altered Carbon’s best scenes are; our glossary of the show’s weirdest terms and concepts; why we think it’s the Game of Thrones of cyberpunk; the show’s message, according to the people who made it; and the reason why there’s so much violence and nudity.