Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Rage with the Machine

In Amped, the new science fiction thriller by Daniel H. Wilson, Owen Gray has a machine in his head. Without it, he would die—but with it, he’s not considered human anymore. He’s “amped”—and so are millions of other Americans, who received cutting edge medical intervention for epilepsy, borderline intelligence, and other conditions, before public opinion coalesced into resentment and fear. The machines are supposed to allow people who otherwise would have been constrained by physical or mental limitations to live “normal” lives. But the machines do their jobs too well, making the recipients stronger, faster, and smarter than everyone else. Then a Supreme Court ruling solidifies the anxiety of a nation, stripping civil rights from the amped. A wave of condoned prejudice and violence roils across the country.

Owen always believed that his amp was intended solely to prevent epileptic seizures, but when he loses his teaching job and is forced out of his home, his father reveals that Owen’s machine has extraordinary dormant powers. If he chooses, Owen could be the linchpin that secures victory for the amped. But how can he ally with one side against the other, when there should be no sides at all?

Amped explores the positive and negative effects of technology on culture, economy, and the individual; and the ways in which fear and hope shape the policies of a nation. That makes it sound awfully serious, but I didn't call it a thriller for nothing—Amped is also fast-moving and fun, with sympathetic characters and enough moral ambiguities to keep it interesting.

Wilson is the New York Times bestselling author of Robopocalypse, the “Resident Roboticist” at Popular Mechanics, and a resident of Portland, Oregon.

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