Altered Carbon: Guns of the Future

Season 2 of the Netflix adaptation of the famous cyberpunk series finally premiers Feb. 27

UPDATE: After a two-year wait, the second season of Altered Carbon will finally hit Netflix on February 27, 2020. Check out the trailer for S2 above. This time, Anthony Mackie plays Takeshi Kovacs, who travels to his home planet of Harlan’s World and lands in a state-of-the-art military grade sleeve with all kinds of neat tricks.

We will bring you the details on all the futuristic guns in the newest chapter of this sci-fi epic, as soon as we’ve had a chance to watch it! For now, take a tour through the guns of Season 1, because you know you’re going to rewatch it this weekend in a pre-binge binge.


SEASON 1

In 2018, Netflix debuted a 10-episode take on the gritty and futuristic series of sci-fi novels: The Takeshi Kovacs Books with Altered Carbon, the show being named after the first book in the series, and the plot mostly follows that of the first novel, with a few big changes of course.

Anyone who has read the cyberpunk classics by Richard K. Morgan knows that firearms play a big part in the turbulent, violent universe where people have conquered the difficulties of interstellar travel in a rather unconventional way, and have also conquered the minor complication of physical death.

You see, almost everyone in the Altered Carbon universe has their entire consciousness and personality backed up in a physical unit called a cortical stack embedded in their spine. If a person’s body should die, the cortical stack is simply removed and implanted into a new body to live on as if nothing had happened. That human data is called Digital Human Freight or DHF. If the stack is destroyed, the “person” is destroyed and this is known as “real death” or getting RD’d.

Some bodies are custom grown from scratch for specific purposes (even to the point of being utilitarian and task specific on some worlds), others are the bodies of actual people that can be swapped almost as easily as getting in and out of a car, and others are customized clones that can only be afforded by the ultra-rich.

That also means a character can occupy a number of bodies over a period of time, such as the protagonist Takeshi Kovacs. In the show, he is played by Morgan Gao as a boy. Will Yun Lee plays his “birth sleeve.” Byron Mann then plays Tak in an older body, credited as O.G. Kovacs, and then Joel Kinnaman plays the body he uses in the year 2384, the version we spend the most time with.


Morgan Gao plays him as a boy (credited as “Young Tak”) Will Yun Lee playing his “birth sleeve” (as “Stronghold Kovacs”), Byron Mann plays him in an older body (as “O.G. Kovas”), and Joel Kinnaman plays the body he uses in 2384 (“Takeshi Kovacs”)

The book series was fairly violent, considering bodily damage doesn’t carry the same stakes it does in our world, and that means a lot of guns.

In the books, which contain just as much Raymond Chandler hard-boiled detective stuff as cyberpunk, the firearms were a blend of today’s firearms mixed with some sci-fi tech. The first book contains passages like the one below, which describes the Phillips Squeeze Gun, which the main character, Takeshi Kovacs, acquires near the beginning of the story.

“A solid steel load. Uses an electromagnetic accelerator. Completely silent, accurate up to about twenty meters. No recoil, and you’ve got a reverse field option on the generator that means the slugs can be retrieved from the target afterwards. Takes ten.”

“Batteries?”

“Specs are for between forty and fifty discharges. After that, you’re losing muzzle velocity with every shot. You get two replacement batteries included in the price and a recharging kit compatible with household power outlets.”

In this promotional still of Joel Kinnaman as Takeshi Kovacs, we see him with a large handgun that might be built on a Chiappa Rhino revolver.
In this promotional still of Joel Kinnaman as Takeshi Kovacs, we see him with a large handgun that might be built on a Chiappa Rhino revolver. Netflix promo photo

We actually get to see the actual scene play out on the show with a pistol firing nasty flechette projectiles from the top barrel and retrieving them and rotating them back into the magazine through a “barrel” coming from the bottom of the grip. It was a pretty cool effect.

There are a number of guns like this in the book, along with all kinds of innovative projectiles.

Certain names also survive into the future, such as Kalashnikov, though it no longer applies to a rifle platform from 1947.

Even with all the high tech, there are still what we would call conventional firearms, referred to as “slug-throwers.” They were viable in the books and on the show because there are simply some limitations to advanced weaponry that old fashioned guns don’t have.

HANDGUNS

Heckler & Koch Mk. 23

Heckler & Koch Mk 23 pistol.
Takeshi prepares to fire the modified Heckler & Koch Mk 23 pistol at a CTAC Praetorian through a wall. imfdb.org

At the top of the first episode, we see Kovacs and his then love interest and partner in crime, Sarah, resting after some kind of caper that involved stealing a bunch of stacks. A squad of soldiers raids the room and a gunfight ensues.

One of the weapons Takeshi uses is a modified H&K Mark 23 .45 ACP pistol fitted with a large sight mount and with some other cosmetic changes.

Heckler & Koch Mk 23 pistol.
A wounded Sarah reaches for the Heckler & Koch Mk 23 pistol during the gunfight with the CTAC Praetorians. imfdb.org

He uses it to shoot a couple of the CTAC Praetorians through a wall and a wounded Sarah picks it up later.

We se other characters use the pistol and we see Kovacs in another time training with Quell in the jungle using the same gun.

Heckler & Koch Mk 23 pistol.
The same pistol on the forest floor during the training scenes with Quell. imfdb.org



Sun Jet 2030

SunJet pistol from Altered Carbon.
SunJet pistol from Altered Carbon. imfdb.org

Of course, some of the guns in the show are pure fabrications with no real guns underneath. This has become more practical in recent years, as it has become easier to not only 3D print really good looking model firearms, but also to add gunshot or blaster effects with CG in post production.

One of the from-scratch fantasy guns is the Sun Jet, which some people online call the Timecop Beretta, because it resembles the “futuristic” pistol from the Jean Claude Van Damme movie.

SunJet pistol from Altered Carbon.
SunJet pistol from Altered Carbon. imfdb.org


From the grip and the trigger guard angle, it looks like the designers had an H&K P30 or VP9 in mind for that part. I like this one personally. It’s compact and looks like a real design while also looking futuristic, and the muzzle design is pretty cool.

When Tak and Vernon Elliott (Ato Essandoh) visit the gun dealer, this is the pistol he chooses saying, “Sun Jet 2030. Classics never go out of style.” This prompts Tak to have a small flashback to training in the forest with Quell where she is using a presumabely older, bulkier version of the same handgun, as it’s also referred to as a SunJet.

SunJet pistol from Altered Carbon.
Takeshi carries the SunJet on him to the party at the posh Sunshine House that is several thousand feet above the ground, but it is taken away by a security guard at the door. “I would have left it in the car, but I really don’t trust this neighborhood.” imfdb.org


Steyr M9-A1

The Steyr M9-A1 pistol.
In a flashback, we see Riker’s Steyr M9-A1 pistol as Ortega talks him down from killing a suspect. imfdb.org

A Steyr M9-A1 pistol with a modified slide and some contour changes is used as the general sidearm for police in the series. In a flashback, we see Riker, the Joel Kinnaman sleeve that Tak is wearing, interrogating a suspect with his police issue M9-A1 in E5.

We then get a good closeup of Ortega’s gun, which is the same in the flashback, as she talks him down.

The Steyr M9-A1 pistol.
Riker with his Steyr M9-A1 pistol as he’s about to be arrested. imfdb.org


We also see Riker holding the pistol when he is arrested in a flashback with Ortega at her apartment.

In a later episode, we see Captain Tanaka (Hiro Kanagawa), carrying a Steyr M9-A1.

The Steyr M9-A1 pistol.
Captain Tanaka, armed with a M9-A1, corners the Ghostwalker (Trieu Tran)in E10. imfdb.org


Beretta Px4 Storm

Beretta Px4 Storm.
Beretta Px4 Storm. imfdb.org

We see Tak and other characters using a modified full size Beretta Px4 Storm pistol. In the first episode, Jaeger (Daniel Bernhardt) carries one fitted with a laser module, though it is not identified in the show, when he goes through Sarah and Tak’s room.

Later, we see that Takeshi carries a similar gun when he serves in the Colonial Tactical Assault Corps (CTAC) Praetorian Guard. Its in his thigh holster in E7 when he gets in a big gunfight with Rei (Dichen Lachman).

Beretta Px4 Storm.
Tak holds a Beretta Px4 Storm to a comrade’s head as his mind is being infected by the Rawling virus. imfdb.org

She draws the pistol from Tak’s holster and uses it when her gun runs dry. It appears that Tak keeps the same handgun while serving with the Envoys. We also see other CTAC troops carrying the same handgun, suggesting its standard issue for the Corps.


Ortega’s Pistol

Ortega's handgun appears to be a custom prop.
Ortega’s handgun appears to be a custom prop. imfdb.org

Throughout the season, Lt. Kristin Ortega carries a handgun that doesn’t seem to be directly based on a real firearm and that is very distinct and different from the handguns carried by other police personnel. There doesn’t appear to be an ejection port anywhere on the slide and when the gun is fired, the slide doesn’t move, indicating it is a pure prop gun.

Ortega's handgun appears to be a custom prop.
Ortega’s handgun appears to be a custom prop. imfdb.org

The design looks like a mix of the South African Vektor CP1 pistol from the 1990s and the Whitney Wolverine from the 1950s. It’s all black with silver accent “ladders” on either side of the gun with a swept forward profile and smooth lines and a silver barrel. It looks like there might be a rail on top, but the gun just has iron sights.

The Nemex

The Nemex pistol.
Dimi the Twin holds the Nemex pistol to Takeshi’s stack in the first episode. imfdb.org

The Nemex is one of the most notable guns of the series, as it was in the novel, and is the primary weapon carried by Kovacs throughout the season. In the universe, it is apparently a rather rare and revered firearm from an earlier time.

We see it in the first episode when its carried by Dimitri “Dimi the Twin” Kadmin (Tahmoh Penikett) and it’s identified as a Second Model Nemex energy pistol. He uses it when he tries to abduct Kovacs from The Raven hotel.

It doesn’t work out so well for Dimi and Kovacs takes the Nemex for himself from then on.

The Nemex pistol.
Takeshi Kovacs with the Nemex pistol. imfdb.org


The gun obviously was designed on the Chiappa Revolver, but the cylinder is actually an array of fuel cells that has to be swapped out every so often based on the concept art and markings on the gun.

In the book, Tak buys the Nemex from the underground gun dealer. There, it was described quite differently, more like a large-caliber semi-auto. “’Second series Nemesis X. The Nemex. Manufactured under license for Mannlicher-Schoenauer. Fires a jacketed slug with a customized propellant called Druck 31. Very powerful, very accurate. The magazine takes 18 shells in a staggered clip. Bit bulky, but worth it in a firefight. Feel the weight.’”

The Nemex pistol.
During their visit to the underground gun shop, the dealer is demonstrating a weapon and nearly shoots Vernon Elliot. In response, Tak pulls his Nemex on him. When the dealer says he’s merely demonstrating the gun, Tak relaxes and the dealer compliments the Nemex, asking if he can look at it, like any gun nerd would. “Nice piece of custom you got. You mind?” imfdb.org


“I took the weapon and turned it over in my hands. It was a big, heavy-barreled pistol, slightly longer than the Smith & Wesson, but well balanced. I swapped it hand to hand for a while, getting the feel of it, squinted down the sight…”

Dimitri “Dimi the Twin” Kadmin (Tahmoh Penikett) carries a “Second model Nemex” energy pistol when he attempts to abduct Takeshi Kovacs (Joel Kinnaman) in the first episode. Kovacs takes the weapon for himself after Dimitri’s death and carries it for the rest of the series. It is implied to be a high-end and fairly rare weapon by several other characters. While it appears similar to the Chiappa Rhino revolver, and some concept art is based on the Rhino, it does not appear to have any any actual firearm as its base.

The Nemex pistol.
Lt. Kristin Ortega uses the Nemex to end the zero-G fight. imfdb.org


Ingram-40 Fletchette Pistol

Ingram-40 Flechette Pistol
Kovacs examines the Ingram-40 Flechette Pistol in the underground gun shop. Note you can see the flechette rounds through the side of the fixed magazine. Bottom photo: “Don’t put your hand there!” imfdb.org

Another gun Kovacs buys from the underground dealer in E3 is identified as an “Ingram-40 Flechette Gun,” meaning Ingram is still around in a few hundred years, along with Smith & Wesson. In the book, the gun was identified as the Philips Squeeze Gun. It’s described in the show as as a CTAC prototype that fires flanged, armor-piercing homing rounds from a “10-round clip.” The use of clip here might actually be accurate.

The flechettes are magnetically fired and can actually be recalled to the gun. Meaning you shoot a round, and then you can have it fly back to the firearm and enter through a tube below the grip, where it’s added back to the magazine. This means potentially infinite ammo without reloading, and that the gun can kill coming or going.

Ingram-40 Flechette Pistol
The gun’s flechette ammunition is magnetically fired. The rounds can then be called back to the gun via the port under the barrel. imfdb.org


We see Kovacs load the magazine with a clip of flechette rounds and then we see him actually use the devastating effect once he breaks himself out of the psycho-torture session with Kadmin and goes on a killing spree.

Obviously the gun isn’t based on anything real, as we’re quite a ways away from this kind of miniaturized rail gun technology, but the gun in the show looks to at least been partially modeled on the FN Five-seveN pistol. You can see it in the grip shape, bottom of the trigger guard, and the back of what would be the slide. It’s an all around very cool firearm.

Ingram-40 Flechette Pistol
Kovacs uses the Ingram-40 Flechette Pistol along with his Nemex to devastating effect when he goes on his rampage after waking up from a brutal psycho-torture session. imfdb.org


Zoraki 925

Zoraki 925
The Zoraki 925 machine pistol (top) being used by Sarah akimbo with the H&K Mk23 pistol. imfdb.org

In the first episode, we see Sarah (Olga Fonda) use a modified Zorai 925 machine pistol akimbo with the H&K Mk 23 pistol during the shootout with CTAC.

Later, we see Rei attempt to draw a similar gun during a training session in E7 but is disarmed quickly, but we don’t see much more of the little gun. Now, this isn’t a real life firearm, but rather a real-life blank-only gun made by Zoraki – Atak Arms, that sometimes stands in for an Uzi pistol.

Cash Special Bolt Gun

Cash Special blaster.
The blaster Vernon uses in Head in the Clouds is built on a real captive bolt gun (top) that uses .22LR blanks. imfdb.org

When Vernon Elliot goes undercover in the Head in the Clouds brother as a general in E9, he is given a pistol with which to kill his prostitute as part of a twisted fantasy.

The blaster pistol is actually an Accles & Shelvoke “Cash Special” captive bolt gun that uses a .22LR blank to propel a captive bolt out of the muzzle to kill livestock at point blank range.

Cash Special blaster.
(Top) Vernon uses the blaster to kill one of the proprietors of Head in the Couds. later, Rei holds one of the blasters on Ortega. imfdb.org

The bolt gun has a yellow shroud fitted over the rear of the action, giving it a more blaster-like appearance.

Coincidentally, Elliot uses it as the real device is designed to kill a proprieter of the prostitution house instead of carrying out the fantasy.

Umarex Elite Force Race Gun

Rei's Pistol
Rei’s pistol looks to be built on an Umarex air gun. imfdb.org

Present day Reileen “Rei” Kawahara (Dichen Lachman) uses a huge handgun that fires some kind of overpowered blaster bolts. We first see her use it in E6 when she rescues Kovacs from Fight Dome.

The gun shows up later in E10 and from the grip and rear of the pistol, it looks to be entirely built on a airgun made by Umarex called the Elite Force “Race Gun.”

Rei's pistol
The butt-end of Rei’s pistol. imfdb.org

Airsoft guns that aren’t based on real firearms are sometimes used in sci-fi movies because they often have a futuristic appearance and are often fairly cheap when it comes to base guns for props.

Boxy Pistol

This unidentified prop pistol is used by a number of criminals throughout the season.
This unidentified prop pistol is used by a number of criminals throughout the season. imfdb.org

Several criminals, especially in the scene where they try to abduct Kovacs at the hotel, are seen with an unidentified boxy looking pistol that looks like it has a magwell or some other device in front of the trigger guard. Otherwise, the gun looks remarkably featureless and kind of unfinished. According to imfdb.org, it was an unused prototype for the police sidearm in the show.

Glock 17

Glock 17
Virginia Vidura uses a Glock 17 under a futuristic shell during the battle where her and Tak’s squad is attacked with the Rawling virus. imfdb.org

During the flashback in E7 to the Rawling virus attack Tak survived when he was in the Corps, Vidura, (Katie Stuart) is seen using a Glock 17 pistol that is hidden beneath a pretty significant futuristic shell.

When she is later found dead, she still has the pistol in her hand.

In the novels, Virginia Vidura was a much more prominent character. She was the one who trained Kovacs to be an Envoy after selecting him from the CTAC ranks, and they were more of a black ops group within the interstellar military. Quellcrist Falconer was more of a distance philosopher and the leader of an old rebellion that Tak admired but didn’t know personally. In the show, Vidura is relegated to being one of Tak’s comrades and its Quell who actually trains Tak to be an Envoy, which is portrayed as more of an elite rebel group.

LONG GUNS

Winchester Model 1897 Shotgun

Winchester 1897 shotgun.
The proprietor of The Raven with his Winchester 1897 shotgun. imfdb.org

The hotel Tak ends up staying in is apparently a relic of a bygone era when hotels were built with a dedicated AI to control them. The AI was then imbued with a personality and drive to attract customers, likened to a sex drive. This is mentioned in the show but detailed in the novels. The AIs tended to get a little nutty after a while, and it also doesn’t help that a lot of them are fully armed with automated defense systems, like turret guns, which according to the books were installed during some kind of local corporation on corporation war a century earlier.

The one Tak chooses is called The Raven and is appropriately Edgar Allan Poe themed, right down to the form the hotel’s AI chooses to take—that of the long dead author himself (Chris Connor).

Winchester 1897 shotgun.
Even though he is a hologram, his shotgun is effective. imfdb.org

When the hotel springs into action to defend Kovacs from the attempted kidnapping in E1, the Poe manifestation uses a Winchester Model 1897 riot shotgun that he pulls from behind the counter. Even though he is a sort of hologram, he can effect things in the real world and the rounds from his gun do indeed kill.

It’s implied that the hotel chooses the shotgun as it is appropriate for Poe’s time, but the Winchester 1897 shotgun is still a bit anachronistic, as Poe died in 1849.


Kel-Tec KSG Shotgun

Kel-Tec KSG
Rei alongside her brother Kovacs with a Kel-Tec KSG shotgun on Harlan’s World. imfdb.org

In E7 we get a pretty good flashback to when Tak was in the corps and Rei was in the Yakuza on Harlan’s World that includes a massive firefight.

We see her using a modfieid KSG Shotgun with some plastic parts added on to change to overall shape. A vertical forgrip is added to the slide of the bullpup shotgun, which already looks pretty futuristic by firearms standards.

Kel-Tec KSG
Kel-Tec KSG imfdb.org

She uses it fighting alongside her brother before ditching it for an Envoy blaster.

You can read more about the Kel-Tec KSG here.

UTAS UTS-15 Shotgun

UTAS UTS-15
UTAS UTS-15 imfdb.org

Another bullpup shotgun makes a couple appearances as a main long gun used by the C-TAC Praetorians, though in the show it seems to operate more like a futuristic blaster than a pump action shotgun.

For more about the UTS-15, go here.

KRISS Vector

A Yakuza bad guy wields a KRISS Vector.
A Yakuza bad guy wields a KRISS Vector. imfdb.org

And what would a sci-fi show be without an appearance from the KRISS Vector submachine gun. During the flashback in E7, Rei goes up against a Yakuza thug armed with one.


The Shocktrooper – Modified AKS-74U

The CTAC troops use a modified AKS-74U carbine with some heavy mods. At least one working gun was made, as we can see Kovac's rifle cycling (bottom).
The CTAC troops use a modified AKS-74U carbine with some heavy mods. At least one working gun was made, as we can see Kovac’s rifle cycling (bottom). imfdb.org

The CTAC troops use a heavily modified 5.45mm AK-pattern assault rifle as their standard firearm in the flashbacks we see.

From all indications, it looks like they were built on the AKS-74U, the carbine version of the AK-74.

From the concept art posted on imfdb.org we know that, in the show, the firearm uses conventional ammunition with a secondary magnetic rail to increase velocity, which is an interesting concept.

We also know that at least one blank-firing prop was made for the show, as we can see Kovac’s rifle cycling.

Envoy Blaster – Tippman Cronus Paintball Gun


Envoy Blaster
Two Envoys, including Virginia Vidura (Katie Stuart) on the right, hold Envoy Blasters as they secure a bridge. imfdb.org


The compact carbine we see the Envoy special forces using, which we’ll just call the Envoy Blaster, is actually built from a Tippmann Cronus paintball marker.

Envoy Blaster
Quellcrist Falconer holds her Envoy Blaster as the team exits the Protectorate facility. imfdb.org


The show prop is fitted with a side-folding stock with an EOTech 3X-FTS magnifier standing is as a red-dot sight. They also added a number of rails, a laser-and-light unit, and a meanly scalloped muzzle device.

The Tippmann Cronus paintball marker was used as a base for the Envoy Blaster.
The Tippmann Cronus paintball marker was used as a base for the Envoy Blaster. Tippmann


In E7, as the Envoys are ambushing Kovacs and Rei’s camp, you can see a yellow disk in front of the “sight” on one of the Envoy Blasters, but we see it down in other scenes, so it may be some kind of night vision device.

Envoy Blaster
Kovacs angaging CTAC troops with his Envoy Blaster after the fall of Stronghold during a flashback. imfdb.org


Magnetic Assault Rifle

(Top) the Magnetic Rifle as seen in E2 held by Vernon in the video threat to Bancroft. Kovacs zooms in on the gun and finds the serial number.
(Top) the Magnetic Rifle as seen in E2 held by Vernon in the video threat to Bancroft. Kovacs zooms in on the gun and finds the serial number. “You might as well have signed your name.” Which leads us to believe this was Vernon’s issued rifle when he was in the Protectorate armed services. (bottom) Kovacs with the rifle after the fight with Vernon. imfdb.org

Vernon uses a magnetically fired assault rifle, described by Kovacs as a “TAC Marine standard-issue AR.” Apparently in this universe AR actually does mean “assault rifle.” 😉

The prop is described as a Dual Stage Mag-Tic Rail rifle and the concept art refers to it as a “Shock Trooper Railgun.”

(top) Vernon holds his Protectorate issued Magnetic Rifle when Kovacs comes to his home, and later he brings it along when Kovacs breaks out of the psychic-torture session.
(top) Vernon holds his Protectorate issued Magnetic Rifle when Kovacs comes to his home, and later he brings it along when Kovacs breaks out of the psychic-torture session. imfdb.org

The concept art goes on to further explain that it is a refined evolution of the AKS-74U Shocktrooper rifle above from 250 years prior, and we can see the same barrel and magnetic accelerator combination on the front half of the gun, though this one doesn’t seem to be based on a real firearm.

Underground Gun Shop

Underground gun shop.
We see a few guns on the pegboard from sci-fi movies, including two guns from the Blade movies and from I, Robot. imfdb.org

In E3, we get a pretty good arsenal scene when Kovacs and Vernon visit an underground gun shop to get some weaponry. The dealer shows off his stocl, which is a bizarre assemblage of guns that all look familiar to a degree, like we’ve seen them before in a few sci-fi movies and shows.

In the photos above we see two guns from the Blade trilogy films starring Wesley Snipes. At the very top is a WWI-era Lewis Gun and beneath, the huge guns with lever actions are “Bone Jacks,” fictional firearms from Blade: Trinity.

The revolver is a modified Smith & Wesson Model 610 from the second Blade movie dubbed the “Beefeater.”

We also see the handgun used by Will Smith in I, Robot, which is a modded Taurus Model 85. We also see a Russian Arsenal Strike One pistol (a similar one was used in John Wick 2), a COP .357 Derringer, and a DA38 Derringer. We also see a fairly unmodified Kel-Tec KSG with an angled foregrip and an optic along with a sort-of AK-looking rifle beneath it.



Underground gun shop.
A wider shot of the underground gun dealer’s wares. imfdb.org

In a wider shot, we see more of the second Bone Jack and a Sage Control Ordnance Deuce less-than-lethal launcher beneath it and one more AK-looking prop gun. We also see a Hawk MM1 grenade launcher on the right.


Getting Around in the Altered Carbon Universe

In the Altered Carbon universe, people don't physically travel to different planets. Instead, they simply send their consciousness.
In the Altered Carbon universe, people don’t physically travel to different planets. Instead, they simply send their consciousness. Netflix

The first season didn’t have to deal with how people travel through the cosmos, though it does acknowledge that humans have populated many planets, and the main character was born on a far away rock called Harlan’s World. However, the story doesn’t take the characters off planet Earth in the first season. However, as season 2 takes place on Harlan’s World, it seems the show will be getting deep into interstellar travel.

Here’s how it works: Instead of physically traveling through space with bodies, human consciousness is transferred through the cosmos, sort of like a radio signal, via technology called Needlecasting, and downloaded on the other end into a waiting body, or sleeve.

Of course, this requires an initial physical journey of some kind to colonize new worlds and build some infrastructure—and that was accomplished by Colony Ships that did just that, traveling for decades with generations of people born and raised on them just to reach their destinations and start a new world. People began doing this before stack technology and needlecasting was invented.

But once those technologies come about and become commonplace, people who have existed nearly separated from other human worlds are suddenly able to travel amongst each other instantaneously, which leads to some upheaval and eras of conflict.

Plus the scale of time has shifted with all this new technology. All that happens over the course of several decades. For example, when we meet Kovacs, he just spent the past 250 years in digital storage without a physical body, as a prison sentence. The prison is virtual and there is no cost to feed and cloth you, and you can’t die without a body, so sentenced have been increased accordingly.

Rich folks can afford to have multiple bodies on different worlds and backup bodies in reserve in case anything unfortunate should happen to them. This is, of course, a big plot point of season 1.

The richest of the rich also have their consciousness remotely and automatically backed up at a re-sleeving facility every so often, meaning that even if their cortical stack were destroyed, they wouldn’t truly be dead (there’s lots of philosophical debate about this. See the “Teletransportation Paradox,” also referred to as the Problem with Star Trek Transporters).

When you start to realize consciousnesses can be copied like dubbing a tape or CD, allowing you to create a physical and mental clone of yourself (against which there are serious laws in the AC universe), it brings up all kinds of question about what life and the human mind is at its core.