Why is the Netflix Series Altered Carbon, named so? Its main concepts are immortality, "sleeves" and "stacks".

In one episode, a character was saying that "we are just Altered Carbon". Why did they chose this name?

3 Answers 3


It's a little vague...even the original novel doesn't use the term Altered Carbon very often..and it certainly doesn't explain it in any detail.

However, I think we can make some interpretations.

Humans are generally described as "carbon-based" lifeforms...

Almost 99% of the mass of the human body is made up of six elements: oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium, and phosphorus.


As such, stack-enhanced humans could be described as "altered carbon".

Marooned in the glow on benches of old wood, a scattering of humanity waited in silence for friends or family to ride in from their altered carbon exiles.

Altered Carbon by Richard Morgan

Equally, it seems that the term "altered carbon" may refer to the alien technology itself of stored bodies awaiting re-sleeving.

We tramped through basement rooms cooled to the seven to eleven degrees Celsius recommended by the makers of altered carbon, peered at racks of the big thirty-centimeter expanded-format disks, and admired the retrieval robots that ran on wide-gauge rails along the storage walls.

  • There is also a quote in one episode "they said the altered carbon would set us free" or something like that... somewhere between episodes 3-6 I believe. I can't remember who said it though.
    – Luciano
    Feb 16, 2018 at 11:09
  • 1
    @Luciano:more like in episode 7... it was said by Dmitri the surviving twin, sleeved in the tattooed body. Feb 26, 2018 at 8:51

I thought along similar lines... but my wife has a different opinion. She thinks the title refers to "carbon copies" as the sleaves are in many cases copies of our former selfs.


Altered carbon is the type of material that the stacks are made out of. It's the elder civilization's invention. The material itself is made from carbon, but as the name suggests it's altered. Also the stacks or songspire trees are altered carbon, it doesn't degrade over time like norm carbon. Hence why the trees can grow forever and reach several km high.

  • 6
    Have you any basis at all for asserting that? I've read the books and watched the Netflix series and never once seen evidence of that interpretation.
    – matt_black
    Jan 11, 2019 at 15:13

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