Last week, I reviewed Daniel H. Wilson’s Robopocalypse, a great plot-driven science-fiction novel concerning the day the robots take over.
His next book, Amped, became available right after I finished with Robopocalypse, so I got to reading it right away.
In Amped, humans are now separated in two groups: those with neural implants, or “amps”, meant to solve neurological problems such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, ADD and ADHD, etc. However, some people have now started to get amps as elective surgery, basically overclocking their brain and become smarter in the process.
Owen, the main character, describes his encounter with such an elective neural implant in his third grade class:
Eight years ago a little kid named Samantha Blex missed a week of class. In the first photos on the news, you could see Sam was a little cross-eyed. She smiled a lot through her kid-sized purple eyeglasses. Cute. The kid was all slobber and grubby fingers and grins. Had a habit of putting blocks in her mouth.
That’s why, when Samantha walked back into school after her weeklong hiatus, a lot of the other kids’ parents were scared. Terrified is more like it. A textbook case of fight or flight, with a serious lean towards fight.
See, Sam wasn’t cross-eyed when she came back to class. She didn’t put blocks in her mouth anymore, either. In fact, Samantha Blex pretty quickly demonstrated that she was now the smartest kid in third grade. After a few breathless rounds of testing, Sam turned out to be in the top-hundredth percentile on citywide intelligence test.
The kid had one hell of a week away.
The book begins the day a judgement is passed where Amps are forbidden to enter in contractual relationships with “Pure” humans. The argument is thus: if regular people cannot enter in contracts with mentally challenged people because they can easily manipulate or defraud them, then Amps are in the same situation of power over regular, un-amped humans. Therefore, they should not be allowed to make contracts with people.
This effectively removes any claim to citizenship Amps might have: they cannot rent or buy homes, have jobs or get access to the justice system. They all become nobodies, a little like illegal immigrants.
As you can imagine, a resistance builds, and an almost-civil war ensues.
The structure of Amped is more linear that than of Robopocalypse. It follows Owen, an amp himself (he believes it’s medical, for epilepsy) who ends up living on the run. He witnesses the cruelty of Pure behaviour against Amps, he joins a rebel group, and eventually uncovers a plot that was meant to create a civil war all along.
I didn’t quite get attached to Owen as much as I did the cast of Robopocalypse. The story itself is excellent, featuring technology just advanced enough to be eerily believable. But Owen himself didn’t quite get me. He was a bit whiny, even though he ends up being like super-hero strong at the end. His development was believable, but he just wasn’t sympathetic enough to grasp me.
The plot, however, is gripping. I was most fascinated with the imagined breakdown of society and the racist/essentialist overtones. It was another form of us vs. them, not based on race or gender or origin but rather on the choice to use or not to use a technological device. The bad guys are really bad, and the novel uncovers the deviousness and the dangers of essentialist rhetoric and of religious-like following of political figures.
It was, essentially, an allegory on one (or all) of these things: racism, anti-immigration, homophobia and religious essentialism. Interestingly, the people being rejected, Amps, are inherently stronger than Pures: they are smarter, often stronger and have better control of their bodies and of their minds. Yet, they cannot fight the force of a movement backed up by law. The book did a great job of illustrating the dangers of rejecting a part of humanity because of an inherent characteristic (inherited or chosen). And as a warning, it worked strongly on me.
The writing is, again, very visual. The details are neat and easily imaginable. I could see the trailer camp park, imagine the old stone houses with ivy devouring their walls, and picture the speed and agility of military Amps. It would make a great movie or short TV series. Wilson has a great ability to let us picture his scenes, both static and moving, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he started writing scripts.
It’s a fast read, so even though you don’t end up caring so much about Owen, I know you will care about seeing how the conflict between Pures and Amps develops.