Book Review: Upgrade by Blake Crouch

Title: Upgrade
Author: Blake Crouch
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Publication date: July 12, 2022
Print length: 352 pages
Genre: Science fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The mind-blowing new thriller from the New York Times bestselling author of Dark Matter and Recursion

“You are the next step in human evolution.”

At first, Logan Ramsay isn’t sure if anything’s different. He just feels a little . . . sharper. Better able to concentrate. Better at multitasking. Reading a bit faster, memorizing better, needing less sleep.

But before long, he can’t deny it: Something’s happening to his brain. To his body. He’s starting to see the world, and those around him—even those he loves most—in whole new ways.

The truth is, Logan’s genome has been hacked. And there’s a reason he’s been targeted for this upgrade. A reason that goes back decades to the darkest part of his past, and a horrific family legacy.

Worse still, what’s happening to him is just the first step in a much larger plan, one that will inflict the same changes on humanity at large—at a terrifying cost.

Because of his new abilities, Logan’s the one person in the world capable of stopping what’s been set in motion. But to have a chance at winning this war, he’ll have to become something other than himself. Maybe even something other than human.

And even as he’s fighting, he can’t help wondering: what if humanity’s only hope for a future really does lie in engineering our own evolution?

Intimate in scale yet epic in scope, Upgrade is an intricately plotted, lightning-fast tale that charts one man’s thrilling transformation, even as it asks us to ponder the limits of our humanity—and our boundless potential. 

Upgrade is a fast-paced science fiction tale set in a not-too-distant future, in which genetic engineering is tightly controlled after the global disaster known as the Great Starvation. Logan Ramsay, once an aspiring genetic engineer, is now an agent with the GPA (Gene Protection Agency), whose mission is to stop illegal gene tinkering and prevent the next genetic disaster.

Logan is also the son of the brilliant scientist whose genetic enhancements inadvertently caused the Great Starvation. His family heritage haunts him, and while the raids and arrests he participates in make him physically ill at times, he sees he work as a penance for his mother’s legacy.

But after a raid gone bad, during which Logan was injured, he begins to feel… not himself. At first, he’s not sure, but eventually, the intense body aches, combined with the undeniable increase in his mental capacity, lead him to suspect that someone or something has tinkered with his genomes.

Things only get more terrifying, as he’s whisked away to a GPA black site for study and interrogation. At first, he’s suspected of self-editing, but even once this is shown not to be the case, the questions are enormous: What exactly was done to Logan? By whom? And the biggest question of all — why?

The action becomes intensely suspenseful, as Logan must evade capture, discover the mystery of his enhanced genetic make-up, and figure out how to stay alive when someone close to him ends up on the opposite side of his mission.

Blake Crouch excels at creating terrifyingly plausible worlds and memorable characters (as in Recursion and Dark Matter), and Upgrade is yet another scarily tangible story. The world in Upgrade is within a century of complete disaster. Humanity faces extinction, not at some far off point in the future that scares those paying attention but can otherwise be ignored, but within a few generations’ lifespans. And yet, people still don’t seem to be mobilized to do anything about the looming catastrophe. As the characters note:

One child dies in a well, the world watches and weeps. But as the number of victims increases, our compassion tends to diminish. At the highest number of casualties — wars, tsunamis, acts of terror — the dead become faceless statistics.

Simply put, humankind can’t internalize and comprehend the scale of loss that looms, and therefore, can’t be made to care enough to do something about it.

While Upgrade is clearly set farther in the future than our own reality, the scenario depicted seems frighteningly possible. Climate change and out-of-control genetic manipulations are driving forces behind Upgrade‘s awful world situation, but neither are unimaginable.

I found myself on the edge of my seat while reading this book, invested in Logan as a person (and oh, how he suffers!) as well as in the action-adventure elements and the futuristic fate of the world. While the science terminology sometimes went completely over my head, I could understand it enough to be both scared and fascinated.

Upgrade is a terrific race against time as well as a cautionary tale, and an altogether exciting and unputdownable read. Don’t miss it!

Novella Review: The Undefeated by Una McCormack

 

She was a warrior of words.

As a journalist she exposed corruption across the Interstellar Commonwealth, shifting public opinion and destroying careers in the process.

Long-since retired, she travels back to the planet of her childhood, partly through a sense of nostalgia, partly to avoid running from humanity’s newest–and self-created–enemy, the jenjer.

Because the enemy is coming, and nothing can stand in its way.

What a cool story!

This brief sci-fi tale follows writer Monica Greatorex, a worlds-famous journalist who’s spent her life on the front-lines of inter-planetary battles for conquest, as the Commonwealth expanded and expanded to take over and absorb the planets on the periphery.

Now in her 60s, Monica heads back to her home planet of Sienna, going against the tide of desperate humans fleeing the outer planets for the supposed safety of the Commonwealth core. Monica is accompanied by her companion Gale — a jenjer, a genetically engineered human whose people were originally created as an indentured servant class.

And now, the jenjer are ready to rise up, and it’s becoming clear that nothing can stand in their way.

In The Undefeated, Monica’s trip to Sienna brings up memories of her childhood, and in particular, a key occurrence that led to her family’s flight from their home to the structured, wealthy, bland life of the Commonwealth. Her reminiscences about her youth and everything that came after are fascinating, and are key to understanding the fear and inevitability of the story’s main sequences.

This is a short piece, but really captivating, with excellent world building and character development. Highly recommended!

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The details:

Title: The Undefeated
Author: Una McCormack
Publisher: Tor
Publication date: May 14, 2019
Length: 112 pages
Genre: Science fiction
Source: Purchased