Publisher: Macmillan (Trade Paperback – 7 July 2022)
Length: 341 pages
My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
The master of the high-concept science fiction thriller, Blake Crouch, returns with another exceptional and deeply addictive standalone read, Upgrade, which takes the reader on a deep journey into the world of genetic engineering.
In the near future, Earth is facing multiple threats and catastrophes that are slowly destroying the human race. However, the greatest threat to humanity may come from within, as advances in genetic engineering and manipulation have allowed scientists to change DNA itself. Following a massive genetic disaster that led to the destruction of an entire food supply and the deaths of hundreds of millions of people, all genetic research has been made illegal and is strictly policed by world governments.
Logan Ramsay is an agent in the newly created Gene Protection Agency that enforces the research ban in the United States and which comes down hard on anyone illegally modifying genes. The son of the scientist responsible for the last crisis, Logan works to atone for his role in her work and no longer believes in the benefits of genetic research of that kind. However, when a raid goes wrong and Logan is targeted by a bomb designed to inject an unknown gene hack into him, Logan’s entire life and grasp on humanity is changed forever.
With enhanced physical and mental capacities, Logan has been upgraded into something superhuman. Forced to leave his family behind and flee from his own agency, Logan soon finds himself caught up in a war for control of humanity’s future, with dangerous forces seeking to change everything about the species. To survive and prevent another genetic catastrophe, Logan must dive deep into his past and his family’s legacy. But the more upgraded he becomes, the harder it is for him to care about everyone’s fate.
Wow, Crouch does it again with Upgrade, combining an intense and compelling thriller storyline with an outstanding and highly detailed scientific principle, to create an exceptional and extremely addictive story. I knew that I was going to enjoy Upgrade when I got it, especially after having such a brilliant time with Crouch’s previous novel, Recursion, and the author really did not disappoint. Upgrade is a gripping and powerful read, and I ended up powering through it in very quick order once I got addicted to its excellent plot.
I absolutely loved the exciting and clever science fiction thriller narrative that Crouch featured in Upgrade, which swiftly drags you in with its unique story and compelling concepts. Crouch really kicks everything off in high gear right from the start, providing a quick but efficient introduction to the protagonist, Logan Ramsay, and the dystopian future of the novel, before kicking off the key plot events. The protagonist is almost immediately placed into danger from a booby trap that alters his genetics, and he is forced to deal with the side effects as he is upgraded to superhero levels. Forced to escape from his own employers, Logan must come to terms with the changes being done to him, while also diving into some deep family drama as he realises his connection to the person behind it. After a journey of discovery, Logan ends up in a war to decide the future of humanity’s genetics, as he goes up against a group determined to alter humans against their will. This led to some big and intense sequences as genetically enhanced beings face off in some powerful and cleverly crafted moments. Everything is wrapped up in a compelling and emotionally heavy way, and readers will come away very happy after getting caught up in Upgrade’s elaborate and highly entertaining story.
I felt that Crouch did a brilliant job setting out Upgrade’s narrative, and it is perfectly designed to keep the reader absorbed in the plot. I loved the faster pace of the book, which ensured that you power through the novel very quickly, although it isn’t so fast that you lose sight of its many featured scientific elements. There are several time skips throughout the course of the plot, which help to move the story along and set up some interesting changes in the character’s situation. The story is set in a near-futuristic dystopian setting which has been rocked by a series of environmental and genetic disasters. Seeing some of the author’s suggested futures for certain famous cities (a semi-abandoned Las Vegas and a partially flooded New York), was very interesting, and it worked well with some of the other cool science fiction elements featured throughout. I also appreciated Crouch’s interesting philosophical take on what it means to be human and the depths of human nature. There are multiple discussions between the key characters in Upgrade, as they debate the changes being undertaken, as well as humanity’s overwhelming self-destructive tendencies. This becomes a rather interesting overall theme for the book, and a captivating motivation for some of the characters. I also must highlight the awesome action sequences spread out through the book, which add some exciting punch to the narrative. Not only are these very entertaining, but I loved how they were showcased through the protagonist’s eyes, especially once his upgrades take over, and the clinical detail he attributes to various actions give them a fun twist. This fantastic narrative really comes together well throughout Upgrade, and I felt that this was an exceptional read.
I deeply enjoyed the compelling and intense scientific framework that went into Upgrade. Crouch does an impressive and expansive dive into the world of genetics for this book, and the reader is soon inundated with information about DNA, genes, and genetic research. It is very clear that the author has really done their research when it comes to this subject, and this combined with his immense imagination results in some intriguing story elements. Crouch postulates multiple potential genetic upgrades to humans and other species throughout this book and how such manipulations could be brought about. As such, you see a lot of very cool stuff throughout Upgrade, particularly enhanced human beings who move and think at superhuman rates. The author paints a very interesting and compelling picture about what such enhanced humans would be capable of, and it was fascinating to experience them throughout the course of the plot especially as you see them happening through the eyes of someone going through these changes. There are various evolutions of these genetic upgrades throughout the novel and watching the characters become more and more powerful while simultaneously losing their humanity is a fantastic and captivating element. Crouch also presents some compelling and thought-provoking discussions about whether genetic engineering should be allowed and would humanity benefit from it. The different points of view and the resultant debates are an outstanding part of book, and I am sure that many people will come away from Upgrade with a different opinion on the subject.
While Crouch does dive deep into the science for Upgrade, I found that I was able to follow along with the various premises without too many issues. The author really tries to explain the genetic science to the reader in an interesting way, which I really appreciated. There were no points in the book where I couldn’t follow what was happening, and I ended up getting really interested in all the potential genetic manipulations that might be possible in the future. I also felt that these scientific elements were worked into the plot of Upgrade extremely well, and the awesome thriller narrative really wrapped around it. Overuse of genetic manipulation is a real potential threat in the future, so having government agencies, underground labs and world-affecting schemes in place isn’t too far-fetched, and these science elements serve as a rich ground for the cool storylines. I loved seeing upgraded humans facing off against agents and SWAT teams, and it resulted in some brilliant scenes. The underlying message about the responsibility of those involved in genetic research played well with the action-packed narrative, and I was once again really impressed with how the author can seamlessly combine science with fiction.
Another outstanding element of Upgrade was its fantastic protagonist and point-of-view character, Logan Ramsay. Logan is quite a fascinating and complex character, especially as Crouch establishes him as the son of the brilliant genetic scientist who caused the ban and was partially responsible for the resulting mass deaths. For most of the novel he is trying to redeem himself for these actions, mainly through his work as a government agent. However, his entire life changes when he becomes genetically enhanced, and there are some deep emotional scenes and narrative threads that are explored because of this. While he is initially horrified by the changes, Logan soon realises they are exactly what he always wanted, and he must reconcile that with his perceptions of humanity and the damage he has already caused. At the same time, he is also finding himself changing, and the continued and detailed examinations of all his upgrades and altered perceptions are showcased in an excellent way by the author. The increased physical and mental capacities are worked into his character well, and it was fascinating to see the first-person perspective of everything that happens to him. I particularly appreciated the slow loss of his emotional self and as the book proceeds, he becomes less and less human in many ways, unable to connect with the people around him. This is sad in a lot of ways, especially as he must give up his family, but you get an impressive understanding of everything the protagonist is going through and grow closer to him as a result. There is some excellent character work around this protagonist in Upgrade, and I really appreciated the emotional depth that it brought to this already captivating story.
With Upgrade, Blake Crouch continues to shine as one of the most creative and brilliant authors of science fiction in the world today. The compelling, science-based ideas he comes up with combine perfectly with his exciting and emotionally powerful storylines to create an excellent narrative with amazing characters. I had such a great time with Upgrade, and it is one of the better science fiction novels I have read so far in 2022. I also think it was also really good in comparison to the other Crouch book I have read, Recursion, which I hold in really high regard. While I think that Recursion had the better overall narrative, I appreciated the scientific elements of Upgrade a little more and I felt it fit into the plot a little better. As such, I think that Upgrade is another five-star read, and it comes very highly recommended by me. A must-read for all science fiction fans in 2022!