Upgrade by Blake Crouch
My rating: 4/5 cats
this is the third of blake crouch’s “more science than u” books i have read, after Dark Matter and Recursion.
i am neither a science person nor a science fiction person, but i’m fine to just roll with it, trusting that crouch has done enough research to make his science parts work, so i never get bogged down by the stuff i don’t understand (i.e.—most of it), because he always manages to wrap a gripping human-interest story around the science-y bits for smol-brain folks like me.
and this one should be particularly comforting to dum dums; illustrating that even smart people don’t always feel smart enough; with its hero logan ramsay (IQ 118; degrees in biochemistry and genetics), floundering in the intellectual shadow of his mother (IQ in the low 180s): All I had ever wanted was to follow in her footsteps. I’d been chasing them all my life, and acknowledging the limitations of his own comparatively flabby intellect: I had extraordinary dreams and an ordinary mind.
geniuses: they’re just like us!
and so once again i leave the facts and figures to crouch’s research team—i’m here for the scientific ethics; that old mad-scientist jurassic park-y hubris around what we CAN do and what we SHOULD do. years before this novel opens, logan’s genius mom miriam DID do something that had unintended consequences—while she and her team (incl. logan) were trying to eradicate a bacterial leaf blight in china, an unexpected mutation occurred that caused The Great Starvation; a famine that killed 200 billion people.
miriam died in a car crash before the full impact of the mutation occurred, and logan was imprisoned for three years for his part in the disaster. afterwards, he gave up on his dreams of becoming a geneticist, instead becoming a committed family man and working for the GPA (the Gene Protection Agency), an organization targeting criminal geneticists operating rogue gene labs creating new species as designer pets (!GIMMIE!), or using their knowledge to weaponize or enhance a human’s DNA, which can be smuggled via—wait for it—BOOKS!
I was looking for rigidity in the pages, signs they’d been wet at some point, infinitesimal circular stains. Vast amounts of DNA, or plasmids, could be hidden on the pages of a normal book—dropped in microliter increments and left to dry on the pages, only to be rehydrated and used elsewhere. even a short novel like The Stranger could hold a near-infinite amount of genetic information, with each page hiding the genome sequence for a different mammal, a terrifying disease, or a synthetic species, any of which could be activated in a well-equipped dark gene lab.
so cool. what is NOT cool is that, while on a job, logan is exposed to something that modifies his genomes. like, all of his genomes. after his nonconsensual genetic upgrade, he’s become a brainy-bourne: stronger, faster, smarter, more resilient, with increased bone density, perfect recall, and oh my god—the ability to speed-read two books at once (!GIMMIE!).
it’s not all great, though—post-exposure, logan is held against his will; a government-caged secret for observation purposes, and his wife and teenage daughter have been told he’s dead, so that’s a drag.
however, logan wasn’t the only one exposed to this instant-evolution process, and he gets broken out of science-jail by a fellow-upgrade and, after some complicated family baggage is dragged into the light, he finds himself tasked with a daunting mission: to save humanity from itself.
it’s a pretty big ask, and, faced with this difficult decision, logan is naturally conflicted about his next steps; a little science-shy over the ethics or consequences of bringing the human race up to his new level, which is already proving to have its downsides: his transformation has made him more efficient and intelligent than everyone around him, but consequently more impatient and less empathetic with normies.
additionally, he’s still grappling with his mommy-issues: he’s finally reached, maybe surpassed, his mother’s intellect, but is hesitant to make the same mistakes she made.
We had gotten so much right.
And too much wrong.
The future was here, and it was a fucking mess.
Upgrade is a delicious blend of action and ethics, rich with family drama and redemption, where the real hero of the piece is emotional intelligence.
We were a monstrous, thoughtful, selfish, sensitive, fearful, ambitious, loving, hateful, hopeful species. We contained within us the potential for great evil, but also for great good. And we were capable of so much more than this.
it’s just as fun and thought-provoking as his other books, but i gotta say, some of logan’s genius-level observations sound pretty close to the insights of college stoners:
We walked back to the hotel under a deep navy sky bejeweled with stars.
In the center of the plaza, a choir was singing. They held quivering candles, and their voices lilted icily into the sky.
I didn’t see the moment. Not really.
I saw the story behind the moment—a tale passed down over two thousand years that told of a child of a superbeing sent to save the world.
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.
stoner-geniuses will save us all. but should they?
read my book reviews on goodreads