Sunday, July 15, 2012

Review of AMPED by Daniel H. Wilson

Photo Credit: Random House

Rating: 4 out of 5

A new technology promises to give thousands with neurological disabilities a chance at a new and normal life. The Neural Autofocus, a device implanted on the brain, amplifies a person’s brain functions, allowing them to function at peak performance. The Neural Autofocus has an interesting side effect: it makes those who have it smarter than humans without it. Students become better achievers than their classmates. Employees perform better quality work than their fellow employees. Arguing for fairness and equality, many reggies (those without the Autofocus) begin crying out against amps (those with the Autofocus) and demanding some way to level the playing field. High school teacher Owen Gray is an amp who finds himself caught up in a desperate pursuit of survival on the heels of a Supreme Court decision to deny people like him the basic protective rights awarded to all human beings. A country on the verge of war no longer views amps as human beings and sees them as a threat to humanity’s continued existence. After the murder of his father, one the Neural Autofocus’ primary technicians, Owen is led to a small haven for amps in Eden, Oklahoma to learn the secret behind the “something extra” placed inside of his amp. A dangerous ex-soldier named Lyle Crosby trains Owen how to be an expert fighter, but it soon becomes clear that not everything is as it seems. Lyle is growing an army of amps to fight regular humans. Tensions mount, and the fate of humans, regular and amped, hangs in the balance. Someone has to stop the war, but will Owen find in himself what it takes?

AMPED by Daniel H. Wilson is a fast-paced story set amidst a unique civil rights struggle. The concept alone of amped human beings convinced me to check the story out. It’s an interesting blend of science fiction and real world politics. Obviously, amped human beings aren’t something that technology would allow us to do at this point, but the story is a chilling exploration of what human beings could turn themselves into and the implications of that kind of technology in the hands of, let’s face it, human beings who tend to think of themselves before they think of others. Owen, the main character, even poses the question if most people are good, hoping and maybe almost believing that they are. Of course, like any great story worth telling, this is a story of good versus evil, and delivers on the good guys. Owen Gray is flawed, yet he truly wants good for people, even his enemies.

With the technological possibilities in AMPED, you can’t help but wonder what the amps are capable of, and Wilson gives us plenty of ideas. Increased intelligence, the ability to control prosthetic limbs, superhuman speed, even the ability to block out pain. There’s even a guy who turns his body into a mechanical spider with prosthetic limbs.

The story felt like it should have been more large-scale than it was, but it was still a page-turner all the way through. It felt like you were on the edge of something that could go terribly and insanely out of control on almost an apocalyptic scale throughout. It would be interesting if Wilson did a sequel with more of that kind of feel.

Overall, I enjoyed AMPED. It’s a compelling exploration of the human condition and a clever use of technology. Daniel H. Wilson will be a writer I’ll be checking out more.

(Note: this book does contain quite a bit of strong language)

I received this book for free for review from DoubleDay Publishing, and the opinions contained in this review are completely my own

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