Rant Review: Upgrade by Blake Crouch

Thanks to NetGalley for providing me with this advance reader copy in exchange for an honest review!

I am very sad to say I did not like this at ALL. I loved Dark Matter so much (despite its flaws) and enjoyed Recursion but found it rather uncreative and just not that great, but this one I considered DNF-ing so many times. The only thing that got me through it was the fact that I’ve seen quite a few positive reviews, which made me think maybe by the end of the book I’d change my mind. But I did not.

Upgrade feels like the author did a lot of research for it and made sure to write all of it onto the story instead of integrating this research seamlessly and focusing on writing a good, loosely scientific book with all the tension and entertainment that one expects from a thriller.

The pacing was so off, and the inner voice of the main character so off-putting that I was incredibly bored most of the time. Upgrade is mostly a lot of telling you how smart and fast and incredible the main character becomes after receiving this genetic “upgrade” while boring the reader to tears by naming every single vaguely genetics-related thing he can think of, any time, completely unprompted. The whole book has a vibe of “look at how smart I am, I know all this Stuff” while also not quite convincing that the character is very smart at ALL with his terrible decision-making skills.

The author wants us to believe the main character is now super smart because he suddenly Knows Stuff while not actually walking us through his thoughts or trying to actually show us in any way how his way of thinking about things changed. All we get is “now I can totally see the world in a way I couldn’t before” and “by the way I remember everything and my big brain broke the IQ test”.

It was also quite amusing to me that his biggest superpower except for enhanced pattern recognition and memory seemed to be “I can tell what people are feeling” and “I can see how society puts pressures on people and puts them in difficult situations”. So…. your super power ranger upgrade…. allows you some basic empathy and critical thinking skills?

I feel like Upgrade was aiming at Michael Crichton and actually hit at Dan Brown – a bit of a silly book that takes itself too seriously and likes to drop difficult, obscure terms for the sake of sounding smart to the reader. I have nothing against an over-the-top sci-fi with only limited believable value (I enjoyed Crouch’s previous books after all), but it needs at least to be entertaining.

——————– SPOILER ———————-

I suppose my main complaint about the book is that, for all the Big Brain Energy of the Ramsey family, not a single one of them thought that, for all that they’re so smart, they’re not actual experts in the premise they’re basing their inflexible moral positions on. Is it immoral to spread a virus that will make humans “better” for the sake of humanity’s future? The fact is that for all the virologists and computer scientists they hired for their Plandemic (ha-ha), there was not ONE sociologist in sight. Not a single person who dealt with human behavior or psychology, only microscopes and genetic code. How do you base a possible genocide on your very not expert opinion on the matter? Where is the data to support your claim? This annoyed me SO much.

And perhaps the point of the book is that people with power are liable to be corrupted by it and turn into authoritarians but it felt to me like the author was not actually going on that direction with That Ending, and rather giving a non-disputable solution to the problem of humanity’s future that would make him still look like the good guy after infecting humanity with an unknown virus that nobody agreed to get, with absolutely not enough control work done to establish whether that is a safe solution, or even a good one. It felt that the reader obviously had to agree with him, which is not how it works. To me this is a villain origin story. The galaxy brain was the basic empathy we made along the way, I guess.

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