Upgrade by Blake Crouch. New York: Ballantine Books, .
This is the perfect book to read on a scorching hot day as you wonder if, perhaps, this near future isn’t far away at all, and maybe we need to do something about it before it is too late…
If you’d like to scare yourself about the possibilities of using gene therapy to permanently alter humankind, this is the book for you!
Upgrade is set in the near future, when climate change has half of Manhattan and other coastal cities under water, and genetic alterations led to a mass starvation event.
The Great Starvation occurred when Mariam Ramsay genetically altered some locusts to deliver a virus to improve a rice crop. But instead it mutated and killed off crops all over the world.
Mariam killed herself, and her son Logan works for the GPA (Gene Protection Agency), trying to make amends for her mistakes and his part of it. During a routine arrest, he is lured to a basement and is infected with a gene-altering virus. But instead of hurting him, it has made him smarter, stronger, faster – better in every way.
Soon Logan is running away from his former employers, who want to study his mutations and keep him locked up in a black site. He finds out his mother is still alive, and is the one who infected him. And his sister Kara has gotten the same “upgrade.” Now he and Kara have to decide whether to continue their mother’s work.
This story definitely makes you think about what limits need to exist in science to keep even well-meaning experiments from leading to grave unintended consequences. It makes some pertinent points about humanity and our lack of effort to curb climate change. And it is a rollicking good thriller to boot! If you like the pace and excitement that thrillers provide, you’ll love Upgrade, even if you’re not usually a science fiction fan.
The only thing that might keep people from enjoying this book is the discussions of genetics. Crouch has a reputation of making the science in his books accessible to readers, and I found that to be true in Upgrade. But the discussion of gene therapy sometimes gets very technical, even if he isn’t using scientific jargon, and that might turn off a casual reader. I found it fascinating!
Mary Beth Adams is the Community Engagement Librarian for Alamance County Public Libraries. She can be reached at email@example.com.