Upgrade by Blake Crouch
Ballantine Books (July 2022)
352 pages; $19.20 hardcover; $14.99 e- book
Reviewed by Dave Simms
Evolution can be a fascinating topic for thrillers, science fiction, and horror. One thing is clear: it almost never ends well. Just ask Dr. Moreau.
However, the evolution of Blake Crouch has been a pleasure to watch and the only danger to society is keeping readers up past their bedtimes.
From the weird brilliance of the Wayward Pines trilogy to the beautiful horror of Dark Matter, Crouch has carved out his own path in strange, dark thrillers.
Set in the near future, Upgrade frightens as much as it fascinates, especially since gene therapy and manipulation has become reality. Ex-con Logan Ramsay works for the Gene Protection Agency, which tracks down people attempting to alter their DNA is myriad ways. Logan’s mother caused the great starvation years ago which caused the deaths of several million people worldwide. After her death, Logan hopes to move on from a tarnished family name, but a boobytrap infects him with a virus that begins to change him. Shades of Flowers for Algernon mix with Frankenstein, yet with a story that is all Crouch’s.
Logan begins to improve. Physically, he’s stronger, faster, with reflexes and instincts that are off the charts. Mentally, he’s smarter in ways that should be read instead of described. Everything seems to be going in a positive direction, until it doesn’t. There’s something else happening to him that leaves a shadow on his soul. The government coverup and betrayal might be familiar, yet what happens afterwards is anything but. His world obviously turns upside down, imprisoned, reunited with his long lost sister, and then, things truly take off. What adds to the intrigue is that Logan can’t be sure of anyone’s loyalty — or motives. From his friends to the agency to family, everyone has an agenda and even his enhanced cognitive skills can’t decipher every conflict.
To say more would ruin a wild ride, but if you’ve read any of his novels before, it’s all about the everyday character tossed into situations that would make Rod Serling and Stephen King proud. The twists are believable and organic, the writing is accessible to those who usually shy away from genre fiction of all stripes. Logan is a hero that could be any of us and the science is relevant — too relevant. Upgrade is stellar storytelling from a master of the thriller that demands to be read in a day or two. Watch for this to hit the screens in the next year or so. Watch for it to hit reality just a bit later.
The horror is in the reality. A speculative tale for people who don’t like sci-fi or weird fiction. If you haven’t discovered the wonderfully dark worlds of Blake Crouch, change that.