In the future mankind has colonised other planets, including one called Harlan's World. Takeshi Kovacs (Will Yun Lee, at least to start with) is an Envoy, a brutal and ultra-skilled soldier. He fights alongside his sister Reileen Kawahara (Dichen Lachman) in a war on the colony.
A key point of worldbuilding in this future is that consciousness has gone digital and is now stored (or backed up) on an implant in the spine called the "cortical stack". This means that if someone's body is killed, their stack can be removed and implanted in a new body, allowing them to live again. If a stack is destroyed, a person can be restored from a "backup", missing the memories of the period after they were backed up. It is existentially questionable if this is the same person, though, or a copy.
Because FTL travel does not exist (the colonies were settled by massive slower-than-light ships with frozen crews), the only fast way to travel between Earth and its colonies in a hurry is "needlecasting", with their personality transmitted through micro-wormholes to receivers on other planets. Early on in the story, Kovacs's services are required on Earth so he is "needlecast" into a new body, that of a man called Elias Ryker (Joel Kinnaman).
Kovacs is hired by Laurens Bancroft (the immortal James Purefoy) to solve a personal murder: his own. Bancroft's body was killed and his stack destroyed. Restored from a backup, he directs Kovacs to find out who killed him and why (a quirk of this situation is if the victim did something to get himself killed after the backup point, his restored self won't have a clue as to what that was).
Bancroft lives in - or, more accurately above - Bay City, a 24th Century version of San Francisco which is divided between the poor living in slums, the ultra-rich living in towers far above the clouds and the middle classes strewn in massive towers inbetween.
Kovacs' former boss is Quellcrist Falconer (Renee Elise Goldsberry), the commander of the Envoys. The Envoys have specialised combat training and have undergone special conditioning to allow them to be frequently resleeved without the psychological disorientation and existential anxiety that affects other people. The Envoys are so dangerous and lethal that they are not allowed to hold government office, with people fearing that they would become an elite class of citizen.
Kristin Ortega (Martha Higareda) is a detective with a complicated past, who soon teams up with Kovacs to help find an answer to the mystery.
Another factor in this future is religion. Roman Catholics vehemently reject the resleeving technology as a way of subverting divine judgement after death and want the technology banned.
Kovacs stays in a heavily-fortified (with an emphasis on the heavily) hotel run by a sentient artificial intelligence modelled on Edgar Allan Poe (Chris Conner), who takes a shine to the Envoy. This is Jimi Hendrix in the novel, but Netflix couldn't get the rights to use Hendrix's likeness. Vernon Elliot (Ato Essandoh) is a military veteran whose wife has been imprisoned, forcing him to take extreme measures.
The fight scenes are going to be particularly brutal, with Game of Thrones director Miguel Sapochik (The Gift, Hardhome, Battle of the Bastards, The Winds of Winter) directing the pilot episode, Out of the Past. The other directors are Netflix regular Uta Briesewitz (Jessica Jones, Iron Fist, Orange is the New Black), Peter Hoar (Daredevil, Da Vinci's Demons), Nick Hurran (Doctor Who, Sherlock), Andy Goddard (The Punisher, Luke Cage, Downton Abbey) and Alex Graves (Game of Thrones, Homeland, House of Cards, The West Wing).
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