Learn These 27 Cyberpunk Terms If You Want To Understand Netflix's Altered Carbon Friv 0

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For the sci-fi junkies of the universe.

Netflix's Altered Carbon is some heady, intense science fiction--the most hardcore sci-fi on TV in years. The first episode alone is packed with so many cryptic, futuristic terms and concepts it might make your head spin. And you wouldn't want that--who knows what it might do to your cortical stack?

Don't worry if you have no idea what that means. We've got you covered with this list of the important cyberpunk and sci-fi terms, phrases, and concepts you'll need to fully grasp exactly what's going down in Netflix's noir sci-fi epic, Altered Carbon, which hits Netflix this Friday, February 2.

27. Cortical Stack

The cortical stack is the sci-fi invention at Altered Carbon's core. It shapes the story's world, and it makes all the show's events possible. Think of it like a USB drive that houses your memory and personality--everything that makes you who you are. It rests somewhere within each person's upper spine/lower skull. If your body dies, your stack can be implanted in a new one, as long as it remains intact.

26. Sleeves

Sleeves are what the denizens of Altered Carbon's world call their bodies. Thanks to cortical stacks, bodies are basically disposable--depending how wealthy you are, at least.

25. Re-sleeving

Re-sleeving is the process of your cortical stack being implanted or "downloaded" into a new sleeve. The wealthy can be re-sleeved whenever they want, sometimes treating different sleeves like changes of clothes, while the poor do it once in a lifetime--if that.

24. Spin Up

Spinning someone up or being spun up is the process of being awakened after re-sleeving. It can be disorienting, especially if your most recent memories were heightened or traumatic (such as if your last sleeve died in combat).

23. Sleeve Sickness

Sleeve sickness is a physical malady that includes disorientation and other symptoms. It can occur when your stack is re-sleeved and can be overcome with the aid of re-acclimation drugs.

22. Organic Damage

Organic damage is the illegal act of damaging or killing a sleeve.

21. Sleeve Death

This is simply the name for when your sleeve gets destroyed or damaged. The mind lives on without the body--as long as your cortical stack isn't destroyed with it.

20. Real Death

This is the real, scary kind of death, when your cortical stack is destroyed or lost along with your sleeve, making it impossible for you to be re-sleeved and spun back up. Of course, the wealthy have secure backups, so the richer you are, the more unlikely real death is.

19. Meths

"Meth" is the somewhat derogatory term for the richest of the rich--and therefore the oldest of the old, the untouchable, borderline inhuman elite at the top of Altered Carbon's society. Meths usually live in decadent mansions above the clouds. They're named after the Biblical figure Methuselah. The exact passage quoted in the Altered Carbon book is "and all the days of Methusaleh were nine hundred sixty and nine years."

18. Grounders

"Grounders" is the derogatory term Meths use to refer to those at the other end of society, especially poor people who live on the world's surface rather than above the clouds.

17. Needlecast

A needlecast is a "tightbeam transmission"--in other words, an extremely precise digital broadcast--of the contents of your cortical stack. For example, Meths can needlecast to different stacks around the globe--or the universe--to attend faraway business meetings or simply go on vacation.

16. Personality Frag

A "personality fragmentation" occurs when a person re-sleeves into too many different bodies. Basically, you go insane. That's why Meths keep multiple clones on ice, often in multiple places; re-sleeving into your own body (even a copy of it) avoids adverse effects.

15. Synthetic Sleeve

A synthetic sleeve is a lab-made body that possesses abilities a normal (i.e. born) sleeve does not, such as some shapeshifting capability to change your appearance. However, synths are limited in other ways.

14. AI Hotels

Altered Carbon is set so far in the future that AI hotels--hotels owned and operated entirely by artificial intelligences--are considered archaic. The AI are programmed to crave customers, and they're often eccentric. In the book, protagonist Takeshi Kovacs stays at a hotel called the Hendrix, themed after Jimi Hendrix, while in the show he stays at The Raven, where the AI proprietor resembles none other than Edgar Allan Poe.

13. Dipper

A Dipper is someone who can hack into a transmission and remove or add information, such as copying your private memories while you download into a new stack. For all intents and purposes, they're Altered Carbon's version of hackers.

12. Trauma Loop

One character in Altered Carbon gets stuck in a trauma loop, meaning her sleeve died in so traumatic a fashion that her backup is essentially corrupted. Her stack can't be spun back up properly without her suffering.

11. Songspire

Songspire is a structure that appears to be part rock and part tree. It grows on Mars, and individual songspires can be small enough to fit on a necklace or bigger than a house. They emit pleasant sounds and fragrances when touched. Their purpose isn't fully clear, but they appear to have some significance in both the book and the show.

10. Extreme Organic Damage Event

An "extreme organic damage event" in the context of the show is an event at which significant organic damage--damage to one's sleeve--will occur, like a pre-planned fight to the death. These require permits issued by the police to be fully legal.

9. Simulspace

Simulspace is simply Altered Carbon's name for virtual reality. However, unlike the VR of today, simulspace is often indistinguishable from "the real."

8. Psychosurgery

A form of mental therapy that takes place in simulspace, often to help people deal with traumatic events.

7. VR Interrogation

VR interrogation is a brutal form of torture that takes place in simulspace. Your interrogator spins your stack up in VR, then tortures you to digital sleeve death over and over in whatever creative ways the simulation's programming can support. Your stack and sleeve remain intact in the real, so you never truly die, but you feel everything in your mind.

6. Multisleeving

Multisleeving is a criminal activity that involves copying the contents of your stack and downloading yourself into separate sleeves simultaneously. Essentially, there are two or more yous walking around. It's highly illegal, and the penalties are harsh, though it can be hard to prove.

5. Neo-Catholics

Neo-Catholicism is a religion whose devotees believe in the "natural order," and that being re-sleeved destroys the soul, even as it preserves the mind. Neo-Catholics' stacks carry special "Neo-C coding" that prevents them from being legally spun up when their original sleeves (i.e. their actual birth bodies) die. It's a big source of the conflict in Altered Carbon. Resolution 653 is a bill that would allow murder victims to be spun back up to testify, even if they have Neo-C coding.

4. Reaper

Reaper is a drug that simulates a near death experience. It's cheaper than actual sleeve suicide, a thrill only those wealthy enough to keep clones and backups on hand can afford to experience. It can also be used in small doses to lower your body temperature and instill a feeling of cool indifference that makes it easier to commit violence. As a result, soldiers often use it.

3. Portable 3D Bio Organic Printer

Imagine a 3D printer that can work bones, flesh, and organs into actual living bodies, A.K.A. sleeves. That's a portable 3D bio organic printer, an extremely expensive gadget that Meths sometimes keep around.


The Colonial Tactical Assault Corp (CTAC) is a universal police force whose soldiers needlecast to pre-trained sleeves on whatever world they're needed. They fight sleeve sickness by injecting chemical cocktails. Depending what side you're on, you might see them as the enemy.

1. Envoy

The Envoys were a group of soldiers who rose up in resistance against humanity's colonial forces and CTAC. It didn't end well. They had some vaguely defined enhanced abilities (including improved senses, intuition, and physical capabilities).

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