Review of Upgrade by Blake Crouch
Updated: Jul 25, 2022
Main protagonist Logan was hard for me to emotionally connect to, but I was hooked by the heart-pounding action, the fascinating imagined power and scope of gene engineering, the world on the verge of collapse--and the most intense, high-stakes sibling rivalry imaginable.
If there’s a solution, it has to lie in reaching us from our ambivalence. Our apathy.
Upgrade presents a future version of our world in which humans are teetering closer than ever to extinction because of a crumbling environment. SoHo and southern Manhattan are underwater, eating synthetic meat is the norm, and geneticists who have tried tinkering with the human state in a desperate attempt to shift the future of homo sapiens have largely been punished and jailed.
Logan Ramsey is in charge of investigating suspected gene scientists who are up to illegal activity, and while investigating a suspicious situation, he is injured by an odd explosion. In the hospital he has headaches, a fever, and body aches, then his symptoms subside.
In one of several key situations in which Things Aren't What They Seem, Logan realizes that he's been infected by a virus--one designed to make him seem uninfected, then to modify his very genetic structure. He’s becoming stronger and smarter every day--but he’s also being hunted down for potential destruction. And all of this seems potentially linked to his deceased, brilliant mother's life's work--from before she was banned from gene experimentation after things went terribly wrong.
Maybe compassion and empathy are just squishy emotions. Illusions created by our mirror neurons. But does it really matter where they come from? They make us human. They might be what make us worth saving.
Because Logan evolves to a state void of emotions and is focused on physical and mental efficiency, he feels more like a fascinating machine to be admired than a complex character to care about. He's driven by dispassionate science, reason, and knowledge. He expresses complex, messy feelings early in the book, and he recognizes an echo of this toward the end, but because he behaves largely like a robot with a human appearance, I didn't feel emotionally invested in his character.
The stakes couldn't be higher for Crouch's protagonists--pending global destruction and the elimination of the human race. So everything that occurs is a Big Deal, and Upgrade offers detailed, heart-stopping chases; the most intense sibling rivalry imaginable, interesting scenes of superhumans' outsmarting each other; and noble desires to "save the world" that conflict with others’ similar desires in crucial ways--and with potential global consequences. Crouch's crash course in a dramatic potential world of genetic advancements and transformation is captivating.
Never before had I seen Homo sapiens so clearly—a species, at its most fundamental level, of storytellers. Creatures who overlay story on everything, but especially their own lives, and in so doing, can imbue a cold, random, sometime brutal existence with fabricated meaning.
Upgrade is another sci-fi winner by Blake Crouch.
I received a digital advance reader copy of this book courtesy of Random House Publishing Group and NetGalley.
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