Warning bells for humanity
The back cover of ‘Upgrade’ reveals that Logan Ramsay has been targeted for an upgrade and his genome has been hacked. Almost antithetical, the first few pages of the book scream -‘Gene editing is a Federal crime’ as per the Gene Protection Agency (GPA) where Ramsay works. Ergo, something has gone terribly wrong.
As you turn the pages of the book, Logan’s thoughts and his fears move in tandem with the chess games he enjoys with his daughter Ava. He’s a normal guy caught in an abnormal situation; because there’s a point at which he starts to feel a little sharper, better able to concentrate. Better at multitasking, reading, memorizing and needing less sleep. He has upgraded and wants to understand what's happening to him. As a reader, you're vested in his story as well.
Here’s the thing with fiction - either it sucks you in or it doesn’t. And Blake Crouch clearly knows his art. After all, he is the bestselling author of Dark Matter and Recursion. Five things that stood out for me -
1. This is a science fiction story and dutifully ticks all the sci-fi boxes. It is bold, imaginative, capable of surprising the reader and putting a question mark on preconceived notions.
2. It balances the science part with existential questions - such as what it means to be human. Along the way, it touches upon subjects from philosophy to ethics, evolution to the environment; while these contemplations are sub-surface, they are inescapable.
3. The conversations are designed to ensure the reader isn't losing the narrative. For eg; here’s one - “In terms of data storage capacity, DNA’s information density is a million times greater than a standard hard drive,” says Logan, to his sister Kara. Logan and Kara are at a point where they're debating if their mother left a message for them in a safe harbour within their DNA. And thereon begins a journey of discovery.
4. Part of the mystery in the book of course is why Logan has been chosen for the upgrade. A reason that goes back decades to the darkest part of his past, and a horrific family legacy. Keep turning the pages.
5. Just as we never fully understand why our parents do what they do, neither does Logan. Miriam Ramsey, Logan’s mother, massacred millions with her miscalculated experiment. Her actions continue to define her family’s identity - something they want to understand and escape at the same time.
There is a healthy dose of hope and romanticism in the book; thankfully, in the plot, Logan is capable of stopping what’s been set in motion. Another success of this fictional narrative is that you can identify with the world within the book - for instance, Logan reads Kazuo Ishiguro, Douglas Hofstader, just like you and I.
As I closed the book, this is what I understood of its message - ‘We need to stop humanity from destroying itself by upgrading our collective intelligence and reason. We will die out in the next century if nothing changes.’