Book Review: Upgrade by Blake Crouch
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Genre: Science Fiction
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Ballantine Books (June 12, 2022)
Length: 352 pages
If you’re a Blake Crouch fan, you’re probably going to want to read Upgrade. However, I will say, while I had a good time with this book, I don’t think it was the author’s best. The summer blockbuster vibe is still strong with this one, bolstered by high-octane thrills, but the premise itself simply was not as compelling to me as his previous works.
The story follows Logan Ramsay, who works for the Gene Protection Agency, a government organization that oversees gene editing laws and enforces them against rogue scientists. Ironic, considering Logan’s mother, the brilliant geneticist Miriam Ramsay, was the whole reason why such an organization is needed. Her unchecked ambition and lack of care caused the deaths of millions, but now she is dead, and her disgraced son who had helped her is now working to take down black market gene modification operations and the people trying to alter the human genome.
But during a raid on one such illegal lab, Logan inadvertently becomes exposed to a viral agent that infects his genetic code, transforming him in ways he could never have imagined. The changes have made him smarter, stronger, and better in every way—and in spite of himself, Logan begins to see himself and the future of humanity in a whole different light. To complicate things, the dark shadow of his mother’s legacy has also returned to haunt him, as Logan discovers that Miriam had dreamed of engineering such an upgrade in a plan to preserve the human race. Now at a crossroads, he has to decide whether to destroy the virus or share its effects with the world.
Upgrade is what I would call serviceable sci-fi thriller, but from Crouch, I confess I was expecting a little bit more. However, I found the setting of a near-future dystopian to be utterly engaging, reading about a world where gene modification technology has run completely rampant and almost anything you can imagine is possible. As with any industry that becomes a lucrative business though, there are bad actors who will throw caution and ethics to the wind, creating all kinds of problems. As wonderous as some of these scientific breakthroughs can be, any mistakes can also prove costly and utterly horrific. It’s probably no surprise then, that a huge part of the story’s appeal is the “what if” aspect.
I also enjoyed the character of Logan Ramsay, whom despite his checkered past is really just your average everyday guy trying to make the best out of his situation and get on with his life. In fact, that pretty much describes most of Crouch’s protagonists, which is why his books are so entertaining because they so often make you ask yourself, “Gee, what if this happened to me? What would I do?” Perhaps that is also why, once Logan’s character became increasingly “upgraded” and sounding less and less relatable, the story began to lose me. Don’t get me wrong, at no time did I find the story boring, but occasionally the pacing would try my patience, with random infodumps coming out of nowhere, or writing that could get a little too technical at times, making Upgrade feel a bit less user-friendly than the author’s other books.
Furthermore, this doesn’t feel like his most polished work. Sure, certain concepts were extremely well-developed, but there were other ideas that seemed glossed over. Admittedly, more than once, I also got the impression Crouch was rushed, where rather than take the time to go into detail, he would fall back on genre conventions to do the work for him. A lot of the action scenes had a perfunctory feel to them, all flash and not much originality. Readers looking for deeper questions to ponder will probably be disappointed as well, as I feel the novel’s key themes of “Should humans play God?” are pretty well-trodden ground at this point.
Still, there’s no denying Blake Crouch’s talent for writing reliable entertainment, and fans of sci-fi thrillers will probably enjoy Upgrade, especially if you are new to his work. Having read Dark Matter and Recursion before this though, Upgrade is probably my least favorite of his books, and yet at the same time, I’m not sorry I read it. It might not have been phenomenal, but it was quick and fun, and sometimes that’s all you need.