A Guide to the Creepy Human “Sleeves” and Other Crazy Terms in 'Altered Carbon'


Altered Carbon, Netflix’s new cyberpunk drama series, feels familiar. The setting — a velvet-dark future city, formerly San Francisco, with pops of neon light — is reminiscent of Blade Runner, that other hardboiled future world where the limitations of mankind are tested as technology criss-crosses the boundaries of morality. In Blade Runner, humanity is forever altered with the development of replicants, genetically engineered androids that are virtually indistinguishable from biological human beings. But Altered Carbon, based on a 2002 novel by Richard K. Morgan, presents a more perilous dilemma. Instead of integrating society with human-like androids, this universe has found a way to prolong life by digitizing the soul.

But is consciousness really the soul? And if it’s digitized, what does that mean for physical bodies? Do they matter as much as we’ve been lead to believe, or are they really just shells of matter that hold no bearing on our actual selves?

These are the questions woven into Altered Carbon‘s opulent tomorrow, and they carry through a 10-episode season that wrestles with a new reality. As seen through the horrified eyes of Takeshi Kovacs (Joel Kinnaman), a super-soldier once tasked with putting an end to the immoral tech that now runs rampant — whose mind is resurrected and placed in a new body to help solve the “murder” of one of the oldest and richest men alive — we’re slowly introduced to the terrifying implications of a world where bodies are disposable and eternal life is only comfortable for those who can afford it.

Because it depicts a future that doesn’t exist (yet!), the show throws a lot of tech and terminology at its audience right away, before jumping head-on into a complicated web of plot. To keep your head straight, here’s a brief guide to the important terms in Altered Carbon‘s frightening world.


What are the “stacks” in Altered Carbon?

Those digitized souls we mentioned? Those are called “stacks” — short for “cortical stack” — which are implanted into biological humans when they’re 1-year-old. Stacks contain the human mind and everything that comes with it, including memory and emotion. Stacks essentially make their owner immortal, as they can be endlessly re-uploaded into new bodies so long as the stack itself isn’t damaged.

As we learn, certain groups, like Catholics, resist cortical stacks so they can get into heaven, which is impossible if the soul never truly dies. Because of their beliefs, Catholics are targeted by criminals since they won’t be around to identify their assailant.

When a stack is permanently destroyed, it is referred to as “RD,” or “real death.”

What are the “sleeves” in Altered Carbon?

Human bodies are known as “sleeves” because they’re merely casing for the stacks. As we quickly learn, the quality of your sleeves corresponds to your finances. The wealthy are able to afford the best-looking, strongest, healthiest sleeves, whereas the poor have to make due with whatever’s left, or opt for a synthetic body, which is considered the worst of the worst. In the pilot episode, we see a 7-year-old girl who died in a car crash returned to her parents in the body of an elderly woman, since that’s all they could afford. Because sleeves are still biological bodies, the stacks don’t always alter certain behaviors. Kovacs is in the sleeve of a heavy smoker, so he has to smoke, too. Psychasec is the company that developed the sleeve technology, and it sells them to the public, complete in creepy, giant plastic bags. 

There are limitations of sleeving, and ways to get around sleeving regulations. Multi-sleeving, for instance, refers to the illegal practice of downloading the contents of your stack into multiple sleeves. There’s also a process known as “spin up,” where a stack is temporarily placed into a sleeve for interrogation purposes.


Who are the Envoys?

These elite soldiers were imbued with “neuro-chems,” which gave them heightened intuition and the ability to withstand the mental torture of the re-sleeving process. They also lack emotion, are able to detect human error, and have perfectly preserved memories. Basically, they’re perfect detectives. Koyacs was an Envoy in his past life, which is part of the reason Laurens Bancroft — the rich man who resurrects him — wants him to help decode his murder. (Bancroft’s wealth meant that he could afford to back up his stack in a cloud, so that even after it’s destroyed, he was able to come back.)

What are “meths”?

No, not methamphetamine. In this future world, wealthy people — like Bancroft — who are able to afford endless backups and sleeves are known as “meths.” This is a reference to Methusaleh, the Biblical figure who lived longest, with a lifespan of almost 1,000 years. Instead of riding out the lifespan of their sleeve, meths will jump into new, better bodies when their sleeves start to age, preserving themselves in eternal youth. They’re despised by common folk who sneer at their privileged, immoral wealth.

What does “needlecasting” mean?

Interstellar travel is possible in Altered Carbon thanks to a process known as “needlecasting.” Sleeves don’t physically travel to other planets and galaxies, but the coding in their stacks is beamed there and fitted to a different sleeve. Originally meant as a war tactic, the complications — namely, that it takes a while to adjust to a sleeve, so soldiers were too disoriented to properly fight — led to the development of Envoys.

Some of these terms are bound to throw off people who want to come into a show knowing exactly what to expect, but once you get a feel for the rhythm and language of Altered Carbon, the unfamiliar phrases become an essential part of the world. Sign up here for our daily Thrillist email and subscribe here for our YouTube channel to get your fix of the best in food/drink/fun.

Lindsey Romain is a writer and editor living in Chicago. She covers politics for Teen Vogue and has also appeared in Vulture, Birth.Movies.Death, and more. Follow her on Twitter @lindseyromain.


Where to Celebrate Lunar New Year 2023 in Australia

And what it means to be in the year of the Rabbit.

where to celebrate lunar new year australia

Starting with the new moon on Sunday, January 22, this Lunar New Year ushers in the year of the Rabbit. We’ve put together a guide on celebrating the Lunar New Year in Australia.

What is special about the year of the Rabbit?

As you might know, each year has an animal sign in the Chinese Zodiac, which is based on the moon and has a 12-year cycle. This year, we celebrate the year of the rabbit, known to be the luckiest out of all twelve animals. It symbolises mercy, elegance, and beauty.

What celebrations are taking place and how can I get involved?

There are plenty of festivals happening all around the country which you can get involved with. Here they are per state.

New South Wales

Darling Harbour Fireworks
When: Every year, Sydney puts on a fireworks show, and this year, you can catch it on January 28 and February 4 at 9 pm in Darling Harbour.

Dragon Boat Races
When: Witness three days of dragon boat races and entertainment on Cockle Bay to usher in the Lunar New Year. The races will commence on January 27 and finish on January 29.

Lion Dances
When: Catch a traditional Lion Dance moving to the beat of a vigorous drum bringing good luck and fortune for the Lunar New Year. The dance performances will happen across Darling Harbour on Saturday, January 21, Sunday, January 22, and Sunday, February 4 and 5, around 6 pm and 9 pm.

Lunar New Year at Cirrus Dining
When: Barangaroo’s waterfront seafood restaurant, Cirrus, is celebrating the Year of the Rabbit with a special feast menu. Cirrus’ LNY menu is $128pp with optional wine pairing and is available from Saturday, January 21, to Sunday, February 5.

Auntie Philter
When: Hello Auntie’s owner and executive chef, Cuong Nguyen will be dishing out some of the most classic Vietnamese street foods with his mum, Linda. All of Philter’s favourites will be on offer, as well as Raspberry Pash Beer Slushies and other cocktails being served at the Philter Brewing rooftop bar on Sunday, January 22 and Sunday, January 29.


Lunar New Year Festival
When: Ring in the Lunar New Year with food, music, arts, and more on Sunday, January 22, from 10 am to 9 pm.

Lunar New Year at the National Gallery of Victoria
When: Celebrate the year of the rabbit at the National Gallery of Victoria’s festival of art, food, and art-making activities for everyone from 10 am-5 pm.


BriAsia Festival
When: From February 1-19, Brisbane will come alive with performances, including lion dances and martial arts displays. There will be street food, workshops, comedy and more.

South Australia

Chinatown Adelaide Street Party
When: Adelaide is set to hose a fun-filled day celebrating the Chinese New Year on Saturday, January 28, from 12 pm to 9 pm.

Western Australia

Crown Perth
When: Across January and February, Crown Perth hosts free live entertainment, including colourful lion dances, roving mascots, and drumming performances. The restaurants will also throw banquets and menus dedicated to the Lunar New Year.

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