Thursday, July 19, 2012

Daniel H. Wilson Gets Amped. You?

There are two ways to size up Amped by Daniel H. Wilson. Enjoy the fast-paced, near future techno-thriller despite its shortcomings. Or suffer through it, longing for character development and more literary substance.

I chose the former because it wouldn't be here otherwise. But I still think most people need to know more before they buy it. Many reader reviews are mixed because they expect something else.

Boiled to its core, this book is largely about prejudice, except it uses science fiction as a twist. It's not the color of people's skin that drives discrimination, it's what lies just under their skin — technology.

The Amped concept is greater than the parts that play it.

Amped can be a bit mind numbing when you think about it. Technological advances in the next decade or so could bring part of Wilson's world to light. Technology could be implanted to help people regulate their minds — an immediate cure for mental conditions or better interface for prosthetics.

The solution is nothing less than a miracle. For Owen Gray, it changed his life. He suffered from epilepsy and was prone to seizures. Compared to other "amps," the technology helps him function. But for others — children who were slow learners or maybe diagnosed with ADHD — the technology means something else all together. They get a Flowers For Algernon ride up the intellect ladder.

Right, intelligence-enhacing surgery is one of several familiar hooks, with Wilson taking it a few steps further en masse. Once the government helps fund hundreds and thousands of people to rectify their shortcomings, people start to wonder how average humans might keep up. They become a minority.

In some cases, they become scary. Military test subjects have a new way to look on the battlefield. Mixed and matched pushes the envelope of enhancement. Highly focused concentration can alter human chemistry. And the creepiest part: Even if the amps are surgically removed, the brain remembers the paths and patterns they helped to stimulate. There is no going back.

The frightfully vivid flashback in history seen as a near-future event. 

The book opens on the same day that the Supreme Court issues a controversial but populous opinion. Amplified humans are different from humans, and therefore aren't entitled to the same set of rights.

Some of the changes play out like the lead up to World War II. Without rights, amped citizens are tossed out by their landlords, absolved of their property rights, and eventually subjected to ghettos. The idea is the same as it was more than 50 years ago. Isolate the undesirables from the greater population.

Although Owen Gray is hardly as noticeable, he is quickly caught up in the wave of mistrust and hate. But unlike many other amps who suddenly fund themselves unprotected, Gray isn't as ordinary as he thinks. His father, one of the technological pioneers, gave Gray much more than an epilepsy patch.

Gray, who suffered a traumatic brain injury in an accident, has been implanted with an experimental military amp in an effort to save his life. It has been sitting inside his skull dormant. So he makes his way across the country to find the only person who can figure it out — one of the people his father worked with during the initial trails.

And there is someone else: Lyle Crosby, one of only twelve people who was implanted with a similar device. Discharged from the service after the rogue program was discovered, Crosby is already organizing a resistance — one that has dubious backer for a different goal.

As a blazingly fast summer read, it won't take long. Wilson even lays out some literary tricks to hasten the pace, inserting news reports and political briefs to shorten the time in between any action, which is mostly handled well.

The other price, of course, is that the protagonist relies on being an everyman hero without any time to answer the bigger question about what it means to be human. His one and only love interest is equally unconvincing against the backdrop of entertainment.

A couple quick graphs about Robert H. Wilson. 

Given Wilson has a Ph.D. in robotics from Carnegie Mellon University, his technological aptitude is always readily convincing. After earning his degree, he moved to Portland and started writing some mind-bending and entertaining books that often read like more accessible (but not as engrossing) Michael Crichton.

He is easily best known for his book Robopocalypse. That book could have easily ended up a B-movie on the SyFy Channel. But Wilson has more than tech insight in his corner. He has a lot of luck. Steven Spielberg is directing the movie adaption, which is set for release in 2014.

Amped By Daniel H. Wilson Ports 3.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

The concept is cool and the book is all right for what it is — entertainment that raises a few deeper questions. It makes you wonder whether technology could eventually change the human experience or if that would be considered a human experience. The answers aren't in there and maybe that's a point. Some of these technologies already exist.

Amped: A Novel by Daniel H. Wilson is available on Amazon and you can find the novel at Barnes & Noble. Indie shop Alibris also carries it. The book can also be downloaded for iBooks or the audiobook from iTunes. The book is narrated by Robbie Daymond. He helps solidify the writing style, but doesn't add much more to Owen Gray than is already on the page.
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