By Nicholas Barham
I was recently gifted Upgrade, the latest novel by Blake Crouch. For those that are less familiar, Blake Crouch is a popular novelist best known for his Wayward Pines trilogy, and his two stand-alone novels Dark Matter and Recursion, which were all page-turners. Upgrade is no exception.
Logan Ramsay is an average guy with a dark family history. One day he is exposed to a virus that mutates his genome at a fundamental level, his intellect starts to grow and he starts to become something more than human, an upgraded form of human.
Logan has to find out who has done this to him and why. His journey will lead him to danger and conflict as he is pursued by a shadowy organisation. He will have to confront his family’s dark past, and most importantly he will have to make a choice on humanity’s next course of evolution.
As with other novels by Blake Crouch, the less you know going in the better.
A Thriller First, Sci-Fi Second
Upgrade is a science fiction thriller that is far more thriller than science fiction, this will either be a positive or a negative depending on what you are looking for and expecting.
Upgrade strikes an uneasy, but surprisingly good, middle ground between the two worlds of science fiction and thriller. Without giving anything away, let’s just say that the world of Upgrade is set in the near future in which some key scientific and technological developments were made with the best intentions in mind, but which led to a catastrophic disaster for humankind as a whole. If you were expecting Upgrade to heavily explore this world then you may be disappointed.
Rather the world and its science fiction elements provide a backdrop for a thriller that centres entirely around Logan Ramsay. Don’t get me wrong there is some world exploration, and Crouch has managed to include a lot of scientific concepts relevant to the story, but in a way that is easy to understand and does not distract from the action or drama too much. Rather than a sci-fi epic, Upgrade is a very insular, intimate story of an average guy who has been caught up in a strange and unnatural situation and has to deal with it, all the while having to confront his personal demons and dark family legacy.
The stakes are high, with the fate of humanity in Logan’s hands. But there is not a lot of exploration of the broader world, and that alone makes the stakes feel less impactful. Upgrade is a thriller with a bit of sci-fi blended in, if that sounds like you then read on.
Logan, From Average Joe to Upgraded Human
Logan’s transformation into an upgraded human is compelling and realistic. There are many stories out there that involve the concept of an average person stumbling across super-human powers: from superhero comics, to movies like The Lawnmower Man (1992), Limitless (2011), and many more. Upgrade stands out as a story that explored the change quite well. Logan’s new hyper-intelligence sees him pulling away from everyone around him, and furthermore, we find some compelling evidence that what many of us consider a dream, the idea of becoming some kind of super-intelligent human, comes with many drawbacks.
Like any good science fiction, Upgrade makes us ponder many questions and ideas like what it means to be human, whether we can be better, and the consequences of technologies like genetic engineering. Like a Dark Mirror episode, Upgrade shows us quite realistically how one particular technological advancement changes us and the world around us.
Upgrade is an instant classic packed with action, drama, suspense and mystery. It is mainly a thriller, but with an added sprinkle of science fiction added in for good measure. The world of Upgrade is certainly a compelling one and provides a good backdrop to Logan’s story. The philosophical questions that the story poses to the reader are thought-provoking and thus add depth to the plot like any good science fiction, while still remaining accessible to those not used to science fiction. If you are looking for a good page-turner then do yourself a favour and pick this book up today.