In the future, brain implants are widespread. They can cure all sorts of neurological conditions, including ADD, epilepsy, learning disabilities, and even autism. They’re great for interfacing with prosthetic limbs, and healthy people can get them as an elective surgery to boost their IQs by three or four dozen points. They sound great, but there’s one big problem. The Supreme Court just ruled that it’s legal to discriminate against people who have them.
This is the world that Daniel H. Wilson, author of Robopocalypse, drops us into at the beginning of his newest novel, Amped. On the heels of the Court’s decision, millions of unimplanted people who fear competition from those with technologically-enhanced abilities, or who simply don’t approve of the technology, begin forcing the half-million “amps” in the country to the margins of society.
In the midst of this chaos, schoolteacher Owen Gray learns from his father that his own amp does a lot more than just treat his epilepsy, and someone is out to kill him for it. Driven from his home, he journeys to an amp-run trailer park in Oklahoma, where he meets his father’s friend, Jim, the only man who knows just what Owen has in his head, and the terrifying “laughing cowboy”, Lyle Crosby, an extremist ex-military amp.
Owen must learn to use his new-found abilities as he navigates around dueling protest groups, Lyle’s own shadowy aims, and the vicious anti-amp rhetoric of Senator Joseph Vaughn. And he had better do it soon, before things spiral completely out of control.
Amped is one of those great pieces of science fiction that both entertains and makes you think. It touches on many aspects of the future of society, from politics and law to morality and the very nature of what it means to be human. Even if Wilson’s points seem one-sided in places, he makes sure to show that things are not all black-and-white, a thread that leads right up to Owen’s final confrontation.
Meanwhile, the story is equally compelling. Owen is the everyman, trying to get by in a world he no longer understands. Stripped of ordinary legal protections, he must fend for himself as he is dragged into ever-murkier circles with surprises at every turn, where no course of action seems completely right. All of Amped is good reading, but it’s the way that Wilson keeps the twists and turns coming right up to the end that puts this book over the top.
My rating: 5 out of 5.