Overall: 6.3 / Characters: 4 / Atmosphere: 9 / Writing Style: 8 / Plot: 7 / Intrigue: 6 / Logic: 4 / Enjoyment: 6
Logan Ramsay is the son of the infamous Miriam Ramsay, the biologist who caused The Great Starvation with her genetically modified locusts. After getting out of prison for his connection to the crimes, he finds a job as an agent at the Gene Protection Agency. Him and his partner track down and capture rogue geneticists who are messing with DNA for nefarious purposes.
In one raid, he gets exposed to a biological weapon and is subsequently quarantined. He makes a full recovery with no obvious tinkering done to his genetic code. That is until he starts feeling growing pains, can memorize anything he reads, and has an IQ well above what can be tested for.
Logan is the first domino to fall in a much larger plan orchestrated by his dead mother. The plan to advance the evolution of the human species.
There was a thin line of calligraphy below the photograph: It’s okay to be who you are in this moment.
The only sound was the icy wind rattling the last leaves on the branches above us—skeletons of once green things.
“Life never really goes the way you want or expect. Usually, even getting exactly what you want turns out not to have been what you really wanted. So, my son, if you ever find a sliver of happiness and peace, just be thankful and live. Don’t reach for more, because a sliver is more than most people ever find.”
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.
And I was struck, again, as an outside observer, by how much the members of our species needed one another. All these people out in the cold rain. To laugh and drink. To talk about nothing. It was almost as if that need for connection and touch was our…their…lifeblood.
The urge to wall myself off from the ache is acute. But I want to feel it. If I lose the ability to hurt, I also lose my grasp on joy—those brief moments of contentment that make consciousness worth the voyage.
Characters - 4/10
The characters were kind of forgettable. Across his novels, I think Crouch relies heavily on the plot and setting and doesn’t put much work into the character development as I would like. I appreciated Logan’s integrity and drive to always do the right thing. Kara thought she was doing something good but in the end wasn’t the right thing to do. Same thing with their mother.
That said, they fit the same character archetypes from beginning to end and didn’t go through any real transformation or development even though their brains and bodies changed significantly. They could have been replaced by anybody and I wouldn’t have particularly cared. I would have liked to know more about Logan’s internal struggle, having been transformed and unable to go back to his family but knowing they are out there continuing on without him. The fate of the world rested on his shoulders. Instead, he uses his new cognitive functions to push down the emotions and that’s about all we get.
Atmosphere - 9/10
I enjoyed this future dystopian world. It is beat-up and bruised from climate disaster and genetic tweaking but it is still recognizable. I like how Crouch describes the futuristic setting by casually putting it into the dialogue rather than explicitly tell me what is going on. For example, Crouch subtly mentions how quick it is between major cities by taking “the loop”, a nationwide train system. He casually mentions getting into the “Google Roadster coupe” and stopping at a “charge station” to suggest that vehicles in this future are all electric and the infrastructure is there to support it. Major cities are only accessible by boat because of flooding. It is a nice way of letting us know that a lot has gone on and you are discovering the world piece by piece when it is relevant rather than just getting it all in at the top.
This world felt very real because it isn’t too far of a stretch from a potential near-future in our world. The world in the book experienced catastrophe in the form of climate crisis and unforeseen consequences as a result of genetic modification. We are currently seeing the effects of climate crisis and genetic modification via CRISPR has been a thing for a while and is making advances every day.1
Writing Style - 8/10
After now reading three of Crouch’s novels, his writing style is very familiar to me. It is punchy and to-the-point without being too unrealistic or “quippy.” This book in particular had a lot of specific gene codes that were written out and accurate which I appreciated. He also uses numbers quite often to remind us of the mental capabilities that Logan has once he is upgraded (almost exhaustingly so).
I am glad that this was written in the first-person point of view (whereas Recursion was written in the third) because Logan was the only person in the world that could have stopped his sister and his mother’s plans. He was one of two people that were upgraded and I enjoyed seeing it solely from his perspective.
Plot - 7/10
This was a familiar plot line but had some twists to make it less predictable. The beginning was strong in pulling me in and providing context for Logan and the world in general. The resolution was a bit underwhelming, even with the James Bond-esque escape sequence.
The ending was lovely. It has a lesson in it that I completely agree with: we need more compassion in the world. While I’m not really sure where compassion falls on the nature versus nurture scale, it is irrefutable that more compassion and love would make the world a better place. Sometimes (most of the time, I’d actually argue) it isn’t best to simply reduce people down to numbers like GDP, poverty rate, or churn rate. It dehumanizes and only serves to devalue the real struggling endured by real people.
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. They call this compassion fade, but in reality, it’s our genetic inheritance—old adaptations from our ancestors persisting in our DNA.
Intrigue - 6/10
This one wasn’t as intriguing for me as Crouch’s other novels, and I’m not really quite sure why. At times, it was tough to pick the book back up whereas I blew through Recursion in a few days. I don’t think the premise was as interesting and I wasn’t as invested in seeing what was going to happen. The plot was more predictable and the logic often pulled me out of the story.
Logic - 4/10
For some reason, this book didn’t feel as “real” as Dark Matter or Recursion by the same author even though those stories had time and interdimensional travel. I wasn’t as convinced that the science fiction parts of Upgrade could actually happen.
For one, I really didn’t like that they could instantly remember every single memory in their lives. The idea that memories get stored in some hidden place in our brains and aren’t immediately garbage collected while we sleep seemed too far-fetched. I, of course, am not a neurosurgeon but the logic isn’t there especially when there is no explanation as to how it works.
I didn’t buy the physical transformation of the upgrade. Could a muscle really grow that fast or a bone gain that much density that quickly? Maybe it could but Crouch didn’t convince me.
The dodging bullets part also seemed too far out there. I did the napkin math for a particular scene. Logan was aiming at Kara’s thigh from ten feet away. With my assumptions that the bullet moves at 1,200 feet per second (referenced in the book), her thigh is six inches wide, and air resistance is insignificant, her thigh would have to move laterally at about 30 miles per hour. Maybe a little slower if she started moving before the bullet was fired by detecting when Logan was going to pull the trigger. I understand that she was upgraded and could slow her perception of time but I don’t buy that a leg could physically move that fast.
Or maybe I’m reading too much into it and need to just have some fun.
I understand logically that these bits that define the science fiction genre couldn’t really happen. My point is that I need to be convinced that they could to really get sucked into it. I totally bought that a human could communicate with an alien in Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir. I believed that we could go back in time via our memories in Recursion. This book just didn’t sell the premise to me.
Enjoyment - 6/10
Overall, I enjoyed reading this book. Would I recommend it to others? Not unless they have already read Crouch’s other books. That said, it was still an interesting read and I am glad that I did try it out.