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Book Review: Amped, by Daniel H. Wilson

I am a fan of the author Daniel H Wilson, having discovered his work first though Robopocalypse, and then through The Clockwork Dynasty.

When you discover an author if you are like me you start to read everything the author has every written, so it was with joy as I walked through a book store and I saw his name on the book Amped. One of the items that caught my attention was not only the author name, but the enjoyment as a scientist of reading science fiction from a decade off, and seeing how close the author got to correct science.

In fairness, the exact year is never stated.

What if humans were augmented with chips, that allowed us to become more than human? Control extra senses, think faster than we could before, even things that we would consider superhuman today? The technology in question has existed for a number of years at the beginning of the story, and sets the stage for the questions of what if in this book.

Amped uses an epistle style entry at the beginning of every chapter. Sometimes these are news clippings, sometimes headlines from TV shows and web pages, other times pages from law briefs. I have always enjoyed these especially in first person stories, which Amped is, because it gives a perspective wider than the narrator’s own limited view.

The first chapter opens with the tone of the book that will keep on throughout. The book uses the small to teach about the large. The main character, Owen, is a school teacher, and an Amp, who has to watch another one of his students commit suicide. No spoiler here, it is told in the first few pages of the book.

It was a well-done opening, gets people invested in the character, and the world, but it does immediately beg the same question I have always had for books of this type, and movies. X-men, and magic worlds often beg the question for me, that without serious price for the magic in question, why would the super beings not have more worshipers, than retractors, or people who want to join the group, than not?

Throughout this is addressed, though only tertiarily.

We follow Owen through his trials as an Amp as the world begins to turn the legal tides against superhumans, at least in America. This differentiation is hinted at in other parts of the book too, but never take center stage. What is Europe doing? What is China doing?

Light spoilers ahead!

Around the one third mark we see the real action inciting incident. Until this pint Own is a passive observer for us as the audience to see the world, and experience hat it might be like to have the majority of the world decide you have no rights. What if tomorrow you have no property rights? No marriage rights? No citizenship of any kind? Who would remain your friend? Who would stand with you against the tides? Who would steal from you? Who would hurt you?

This hatred and physical harm against a child who is also an Amp is what drives Owen to action.

While the tugging at heartstrings is reasonably well written, the level of visceral hatred is at times a touch disingenuous, and the rate of decline in the level of society’s standards is not easily believed. Laws are passed in days not weeks, and violence erupts in a matter of days, not months. However, as a book, which is always a shortened caricature of reality, it is looking to invoke an emotional response. Which it does. By the one third mark many readers will be thinking, “if the Amps are so dangerous, why aren’t they fighting back? I would!”

From here we get a somewhat standard hero’s quest, and the chosen one structure granted power by destiny. In this case by his father’s technology, who has to figure out the good guys and bag guys in a landscape of violence.

We see some variety in characters, including kids who beg for implantations, because they want to be special too, Amps who are rising up to lead the other Amps in a civil war against the pure humans. Glimpses of the president starting internment camps, complete with trains dropping off people for “Their own protection,” round out the World War II era vibes and the core question is offered up, that with this power, the true nature of a person comes out. Will our hero kill? Will he be good or bad?

We are unfortunately not treated to many viewpoints in the story however. A character who is perhaps wisest doesn’t get much page time. The Amp’s Messianic character is a touch too one dimensional, and smacked slightly too strongly of a Vietnam veteran trope.

We are treated to some double crosses, and the answer to the question, what will Owen do to protect the world he loves?

All told, the story lives up to the cover of the book, “A fast-paced narrative.” The book is a very quick read, in my version at only about two hundred seventy pages. While it was entertaining it lacked the depth I have associated with the authors other works at times, and left me wishing it was longer, for a better harder hitting piece.

Have you read it? What do you think of my final review?

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