Friday, August 17, 2012

Science Fiction: Amped by Daniel H. Wilson

Naturally, because I read Daniel H. Wilson's Robopocalypse, I had to read his most recent work, Amped. This carries along the same general theme of the future of technology and what human beings may be capable of, only instead of robots attacking us, this is a case of humanity attacking itself.

The Situation: Owen Gray is a high school teacher in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Since he was a boy, he has had an "amp" installed in his brain that keeps his epilepsy at bay. There are many like him and the technology, at this point, is not new. There are many children and adults who have been given amps to help cure them of debilitating medical conditions. Others have amps to help them control prosthetic limbs. And still others have had amps installed in themselves or in their children to curb mental disabilities or learning disorders, often making them smarter than the average human being.

The Problem: Of course, certain human beings without amps, or "naturals," start questioning the ethics and fairness of "amplified" human beings. Things were fine until amplified children started surpassing their natural classmates in school. And no one minds having a child with a prosthetic arm on the school football team, until the football he throws almost caves in a wide receiver's chest cavity. So these questions turn into protests, and these protests turn into court cases, and eventually, there has to be a ruling.

Once the Supreme Court makes a ruling that effectively negates the citizenship status of every amplified person in the US, things go from problematic to chaotic very quickly. Even people like Owen Gray, who have their Amps for medical reasons, are evicted from their homes, lose their jobs, and a lot of the times, their friends and families. The last part is especially true for Owen, as it was his father who had a hand in creating the technology, and installed Owen's amp himself. But Owen soon finds out that his amp isn't purely medical, and because of that, there are people out there who are now ready to hunt him down and kill him, simply for what is inside his head. And while no one around Owen seems to be able to tell him what exactly his amp is capable of, finding out may be the one thing that saves Owen's life.

Genre, Themes, History: This is another science fiction novel from Wilson, set in the not-so-distant future, that explores the possibilities of technological advances and how following through on those possibilities can very easily and very quickly get out of hand. As I mentioned in the introduction, this book is different from Robopocalypse in that instead of the technology turning against the humans, the humans turn against each other. It is natural versus amplified, and the fear running rampant on both sides is fueling the beginning of a terrifying new war. And while the question of the possibilities of technology is still central, another question that is brought forth is what human beings are capable of doing in order to survive. Jim, the mentor figure of the novel, tells Owen that his amp will either bring out the good in him, or the bad in him. It will show him for what he truly is. Needless to say, Jim hopes that Owen is good.

On an interesting note, the name "Archos" from Robopocalypse makes an appearance in this book. Apparently, Archos is the one one responsible for leaking information on the existence of an elite group of amps who were given near superhuman abilities as a special force for the military. Due to this information going public, the natural public is given even more of a reason to fear amps, and begin to push even harder for anti-amp laws and legislation.

My Verdict: This is another one of those books that has a spectacular premise, and shows great effort on the follow through, but still doesn't quite deliver. For one, I have a very hard time believing the relationship between Owen, and the stories love interest, Lucy. The connection for me just isn't substantial enough to be believable. Also, a few of the same issues I had with Robopocalypse I have with Amped concerning plot holes and loose ends. This time, it is mostly characters and situations that are introduced, but then they disappear and are never heard from again. Also, the main character of Owen is often far too gullible and trusting for my taste. And then at other times he is in explicable resilient. Some of that resilience can possibly be explained by the amp, but for someone who was not long before these events considered to be an average Joe, he adapts very quickly to survival mode (too quickly) and outlasts people have been trying to survive for years. But this also could be Wilson's way of showing what a human being is able to do when oppressed and forced to literally fight for their lives. I also take issue with the fact that Owne's entire adventure starts because radical naturals are claiming that amps are given an unfair advantage, and then the book ends proving that is exactly the case.

Favorite Moment: After being evicted from his apartment and as his landlord throws his stuff out on the street, natural citizens basically come by and calmly steal some of the stuff Owen isn't quick enough to grab. It isn't exactly a happy moment, but I like it because I think Wilson does an excellent job of showing how quickly seemingly good, everyday citizens are willing to take advantage of someone simply because it is all of a sudden socially acceptable to do so. For me, it showed that we are not as far from animals as we would like to believe.

Favorite Character: Jim, the elderly man who takes Owen in and is half responsible for what is inside the heroe's head, is a good, hard-working man who seems to understand exactly what is happening, and just how dangerous both sides could be. He is the one who warns Owen of the possibilities, and he also believes that the answer is not in a new war.

Recommended Reading: When I first picked up this book, I didn't think I was ever going to say this, but I actually like Robopocalypse better, but not by much. I feel like Wilson has a slightly better handle on managing plot in Amped, but Robopocalypse stands out as the better novel of the two.

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