To quote Woody Allen, “I got a 98 in algebra but only by adding up the scores of my tests.” So let’s see if this ratio makes sense. If Dark Matter is to The Martian then Upgrade is Limitless. Right?
In the 2011 movie Limitless, Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper) is exposed to an experimental drug that increases his brain capacity to the nth degree. Of course he uses that newfound knowledge to bet on stocks and then the bad guys show up and hilarity ensues. The movie got good reviews and a spinoff tv show. So all-in-all, not bad.
Title: Upgrade (2022) Author: Blake Crouch Publisher: Ballantine Books Book jacket: An ordinary man undergoes a startling transformation — and fears that all of humanity may be next. Joe says: Upgrade is a fun, fast read with just enough DNA geekspeak. The scifi is believable and relatable, which makes for a great conversation piece. The main character, though, is as boring as an organic chem textbook.
Novelist Blake Crouch plays with a similar idea. He adds in a dark sci-fi spin yet still provides an ample buffer for his legion of mainstream fans. The end result is Upgrade, a totally enjoyable read – but maybe not quite as memorable as the movie. With Upgrade, Logan Ramsey is an agent with the GPA – which is the FBI in the near-future that covers illegal gene manipulation. Fox Mulder woulda loved it. Like Eddie Mora before him, Agent Ramsey is exposed to a radical DNA rewrite that enhances not only his brain capacity but also improves muscle and bone density. He essentially becomes Captain America with Tony Stark’s intelligence for those playing today’s pop-culture game. Logan then goes on a quest to not only find out how he changed and why – but to prevent gene manipulation on a global scale.
Upgrade is a fun, fast read with just enough DNA geekspeak to give the text weight. The climatic action sequence is made-for-a-movie ready. However, even though Logan Ramsey might have Cap’s endurance and Iron Man’s intelligence, there one trait that DNA manipulation could not enhance: Logan Ramsey is one boring as hell character.
Other than playing chess with his daughter, Logan does not possess a single interest nor have any significant characteristics that make him relatable to the reader. He is not interested in cars nor does he collect film noir posters. He is not a fan of the Caps or the Avs or the Nats or the Rockies. He does not take delight in making the perfect bowl of basmati rice nor in sipping special blend Irish whisky. You know what Logan Ramsey is?
And man, reading about boring characters don’t make those pages move fast – no matter how fun some of the shoot ‘em up action gets.
Logan Ramsey is a good man. He tries to do the right thing and is driven in his task. Yet, pop-culture is full of other intelligent, driven characters that have provided intense enjoyment over the decades because of their interesting, often-flawed, character makeup. Batman, Sherlock Holmes, Mr. Spock are three quick hits. And yes, perhaps what makes those three memorable are their close-orbiting advocates that keep such drives in check. Ramsey, sadly, does not have that amenity. His humanity is his love for his family, which is admirable and tragic and also – in this grand wide world of anything-can-happen literature – boring.
Upgrade is pure Crouch: fast, inventive, and makes for a great conversation piece. The scifi is believable and relatable… even if the main character is not.
Many thanks to Penguin Random House for the upgrade and sending me the advance read.