Netflix is serving up some shiny science fiction with Altered Carbon (executive producer: Laeta Kalogridis), a murder mystery that will remind you of everything from Blade Runner to Dollhouse, The Matrix, and Minority Report. Goopy bodies in bags aside, however, the world doesn't look too different from our own. When does Altered Carbon take place? This future may not be as far away as it seems.
The novel the series is based on was published in 2002, and took place in the 26th century, according to Nerdist. However, it appears as if the film adaptation has decided to place the series slightly closer to home.
According to the official Netflix description of the series, Altered Carbon (production design: Carey Meyer) takes place around the 24th century. Approximately. Maybe even further down the line than that. Here's what the official word says:
"Based on the classic cyberpunk noir novel by Richard K. Morgan, Altered Carbon is an intriguing story of murder, love, sex, and betrayal, set more than 300 years in the future. Society has been transformed by new technology: consciousness can be digitized; human bodies are interchangeable; death is no longer permanent. Takeshi Kovacs is the lone surviving soldier in a group of elite interstellar warriors who were defeated in an uprising against the new world order. His mind was imprisoned – on ice – for centuries until Laurens Bancroft, an impossibly wealthy, long-lived man, offers Kovacs the chance to live again. In exchange, Kovacs has to solve a murder… that of Bancroft himself."
So it's later than 2318, but the technology has been around at least 250 years before whenever that is (the Netflix page for Altered Carbon specifies that Kovacs, played by Joel Kinnaman, has been on ice for 250 years).
The official press materials throw some more numbers out there to ponder. They describe Kovacs as a "22nd century mercenary and rebel" who is "returned to life 300 years in the future and forced to find a killer." While it seems like that is a conflicting report, it narrows the time frame down quite a bit, actually. The earliest that this show could take place is either the year 2351 or 2401 — depending how long this guy has actually been frozen.
Why move the date up from the original novel? For one thing, Morgan was working with a completely different set of circumstances when he was imagining the future in 2002. In 2018, everything seems like Black Mirror, so a dystopia like this doesn't feel that far away at all. It makes sense that the future is a little less distant than originally imagined. Kovacs may even have known someone who was alive today!
The sleeve technology in Altered Carbon reflects our current society as well. "All of us in the modern world are constructing our identities," said showrunner Laeta Kalogridis in an interview with Entertainment Weekly, "largely through social media, for a larger audience. Having the ability to change in a chameleon-like way, I feel like there’s a great deal of overlap between the themes we’re exploring in the show and the issues of identity in our society right now."
Kalogridis also said that the show would tackle come political commentary. Better to do that from a nearer vantage point than one completely out of touch with our current reality. Whether it's the 24th, 25th, or 26th century, Altered Carbon takes place in a future distant enough for it to be a compelling space adventure, but not too distant that we can't think something like this will never happen.