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Thursday, May 24, 2012

eBook ARC Review: Amped by Daniel H. Wilson

Although I've had a copy of Robopocalypse on my shelf since it was released last year, it never quite made it to the top of my TBR pile. That is an issue I plan to rectify soon, based on the fact that Amped turned out to be one of my favourite reads of 2012.

This is a book that works on two levels - it's both a thoroughly enjoyable adventure and a deeply thoughtful look at class warfare and social prejudice. Wilson has previously been compared favourably to Michael Crichton, and based on this, I can definitely say the comparison is warranted. Both gentlemen know how to spin a yarn that pairs scientific and technical concepts with philosophical and political ideals, all without boring the reader or coming across as preachy.

The science here is fascinating, a minor tweak to humanity designed to correct our flaws and failings. Originally intended to heal, the very first implants allowed the blind to see and the deaf to hear; it gave epileptics control over their seizures; it enabled children with birth defects or mental impairments to function 'normally'; and, when paired with some mechanical enhancements, it allowed the physically disabled to walk. However, the bio-mechanical implants have an interesting side-effect, enhancing other abilities along the way. Suddenly, amped children are not only functioning normally, but are proving to be super-intelligent; and amped adults are not only moving as if they'd never lost a limb or use of their body, but are proving to be super-strong and super-fast.

It doesn't take long before significant divides begin to form in society. with 'normal' humans feeling left behind, fearing a future in which they cannot compete. As the story begins, the Supreme Court has ruled that amped individuals are no longer human . . . no longer protected from harassment or discrimination . . . and no longer able to enter into contracts, own property, or have any legal standing. Bolstered by the hate-mongering of the Pure Human Citizens Council, society has turned on its amped neighbours, confining them to slums and trailer parks, just waiting for an excuse to exterminate them all.

Against that backdrop we have the story of one man, implanted as a child, who is only beginning to comprehend the extent of his abilities. As someone who never really considered himself to be fully amped, Owen acts as an intermediary for the reader, allowing us to truly appreciate what society has come to. As he explores his potential - and, ultimately, his choice to either preserve or destroy - we also get to explore what it means to be human, and what it means to be amped.

Surrounding Owen are some strong supporting characters, but if there's one failing it's that almost all of those  characters are amped. Normal humans are not portrayed positively at all (with one notable exception), presenting a rather one-sided view of the conflict. Much of that is due to Owen being the narrator, and it does help to drive home the message of how quickly and how thoroughly we can latch onto our differences and use them as excuses to hate one another, but it does make for a rather bleak and hopeless tale.

The story moves a long at a brisk pace, with some big budget action scenes near the end that really work well. There are also a few interesting twists along the way, and even if I suspected the biggest one about halfway through, the way it played out was more than satisfactory. An all-around great summer read, Amped is a story that will open your eyes as it entertains you, and really make you think about how little it would take to turn us against one another.

1 comment:

  1. This is a great book, one that is hard to put down, quick paced and deep enough to keep your mind engaged as you follow the characters. Wilson has created a plausible story about the near future and our reaction to it. Highly recommended. The basic story is about Owen Gray an 'amp' who carries a secret. Owen is ripped from his comfortable world, which we do not see, into a world of mass discrimination against people who have electronic implants -- amps -- to address medical issues. You see the amps help people concentrate and that makes people with them smarter, faster, etc than 'pure' humans. The theme of technophobia, discrimination and mankind's visceral reaction to different things are themes within the book. What Wilson does is to treat these themes as catalysts for the characters. There are all the common elements in Amped, a fatherly guide, an evil adversary, conspiracy, a love interest and light comic relief. I can see the movie within the book, fortunately this does not take away from your enjoyment of Wilson's clean and minimal writing style.

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