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What Altered Carbon Fans Shouldn't Do Before Watching Season 2

Something curious happened between season 1 and season 2 of Netflix's Altered Carbon: Critics came to love a show they once found middling, while viewers turned on a series they praised in season 1. If you take a look at the show's Rotten Tomatoes score across its two seasons, critics went from giving the show a decent 68% score in season 1 to a certified fresh rating of 83% in season 2. Meanwhile, the audience score dropped drastically from 90% in season 1 to 36% in season 2, and the shift appears to come down to fans doing one thing they probably shouldn't do if they want to enjoy the Anthony Mackie-led second season — reading the books.

Readers the world over are quick to assert that books tend to be better than their adaptations, but the truth is a bit more complicated. It's not so much that the book is always better (although, it sometimes is), it's that once we form an attachment to the source material it can become much harder to appreciate an adaptation, particularly one like Altered Carbon, which includes plenty of deviations from Richard K. Morgan's book series of the same name. (Fans of George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series faced similar frustrations throughout all eight seasons of Game of Thrones.)

On a positive Reddit post from a fan who watched season 2 without reading any of the books, Redditor 1boss_hog1 pointed out that those who love Morgan's series had major issues with how the show adapted the second book. "Did you read the books?" they asked. "Most who despised season 2 read the books, which were absolutely butchered in s2."

If you want to fully enjoy Altered Carbon season 2, watch the show and then read the books

Book fans weren't pleased with season 2, but critics loved the now canceled sci-fi series' second outing. Wired writer Devon Maloney suggested that season 1's fealty to the novels actually made it less interesting, writing, "Ultimately, the season fixated on its (less interesting) hero's journey instead of focusing on what cultural and socioeconomic impacts the story's new technologies would have on everyday people's lives. Altered Carbon's second season, which dropped yesterday, flips those priorities so dramatically it almost feels intentional."

Birth. Movies. Death. writer Andrew Todd also noted that by expanding the narrative beyond Morgan's books, season 2 became more character driven. "It's still the neon-drenched cyberpunk tale it was last season," he wrote. "But its story is more focused on its characters and their psychology."

Even though some critics loved the new season, fans of the books were frustrated by the inclusion of TV-only characters, the deviation from the plot of book two, Broken Angels, and the radical change in Kovacs' relationship to Quellcrist Falconer. Once you know the full breadth of the sci-fi universe created by Morgan, it's hard not to be frustrated by the streamlining that takes place on the show. Still, taken on its own, season 2 of Altered Carbon tells a fascinating sci-fi story that's unlike anything else on TV.

Season 2 is far more committed to doing its own thing, separate from the books, than season 1 was, and whether you appreciate its ambition will largely depend on your connection to the source material. Ultimately, if you haven't watched Altered Carbon season 2 due to the fan reaction, there's still a good chance that you'll enjoy it... as long as you put off reading Morgan's trilogy until after the credits roll.