First, let me begin by saying that law school ruins everything. It changes the way you read things. Including books like this that toy around with Constitutional rights. But since no one else cares about the underlying legal issues except me and maybe the few other law students who will happen upon this, I won’t bore you with any of that.
So, on to the review.
In Amped, doctors of the future have managed to create a prostheses implanted into the brain called Auto Focus that can augment a person’s natural abilities and correct various physical and neurological deficiencies. The implant is irremovable, wired directly into the brain, and is easily identified by the service nub that protrudes from the temple. Some people were given the implant to control ailments like epilepsy. Others were given it to correct mental defects, developmental delays, or problems focusing. Those missing limbs had them implanted and synced with prostheses that suddenly worked and even felt like real limbs. And still others had elective surgeries – replacing healthy limbs in order to become something more.
No matter the reason for the implant, the question becomes: can someone whose been effectively turned into something essentially super human still be considered human? Ultimately – and this is where my legal starts over thinking things – the Supreme Court decides that, no, they are not.
The main character of the book, Owen Gray, is a school teacher and an “Amp” – someone with one of these implants. His is meant to merely correct his epilepsy but one of his students, Samantha, got one as a child because her parents didn’t want a “drooling,” less-than-average child. She was used the poster child of elective Auto Focus procedures and on the day the Supreme Court ruling comes through she commits suicide after Owen fails to talk her down from the ledge. Samantha’s suicide forces Owen to begin asking questions about what it means to be human and what it means to be an Amp. It also introduces the reader to the question as well as the opposition – the Pure Priders, a group modeled off the stereotypical Right Wing organization, and led by a state senator – who believe that Amps are an abomination.
From here, the story begins to move quickly and just hours after watching his student die Owen is thrown into the turbulent conflict between the Amps and Pure Priders. All around the country Amps like him are being run out of their homes, their civil rights are stripped away and Owen – for no reason he can understand – suddenly becomes a wanted man. He finds out from his father that his implant is “something more” and the man ominously sends Owen off to find an old friend of his who will teach him how to unlock the secrets that are hidden away in Owen’s mind. He finds the man and takes refuge in a trailer park in Oklahoma where many Amps have congregated together to form a community – just one of dozens cropping up around the country. But there is no peace here as Pure Prider’s stalk the place by night and Lyle, one of a very few, elite augmented soldiers begins to drag Owen into his plans to force a war between Amps and Pure Priders with no regard to what the implications may be for either side. Owen is forced to make tough decisions about his own hidden abilities and how they will effect not only his future but that of the people he comes to love, and, really, every Amp in America.
Amped is written much like a summer blockbuster – something you could imagine Will Smith having starred in back in his pre-Hancock days. At 288 pages it’s a decent length but a rather standard length. And it’s hard to believe that the civil rights of an entire community and class of people could be stripped away, a war plotted, a political conspiracy executed, and the whole civil rights issue more or less resolved – at least as far as Owen’s story is concerned – in that short of a period. However, it’s a pretty good read and it’s easily my favorite of Daniel H. Wilson’s books. He’s shown that he has some real talent and doesn’t need to rely on the popularity of other books to sell his own. (His book How to Survive a Robot Uprising is as much like Max Brooks’s Zombie Survival Guide as his Robopocolypse is the same sort and style of Brooks’s World War Z just with robots instead of zombies.)
In short, it’s definitely worth a read and it really does bring up a lot of very interesting questions about technology and what makes us human. Owen is a likable, relatable character, and the book itself has a well paced story that keeps you interested from start to finish. Good for average looking for a quick thrill readers as well as avid readers who will appreciate the engaging story and questions it raises about the interplay between man and machine.
Final Rating: B+