Amped by Daniel H Wilson

Amped by Daniel H WilsonThis book asks questions about whether some people might no longer be human. Not because of race or belief but because they are part-machine.

The book is set in a world where mind/computer interfaces are common. Initially these were used to solve medical issues such as epilepsy and to control prosthetic parts for the disabled. However some people, including the United States Government, now use them for elective improvements: making people faster and smarter than humanly possible. As the book opens the United States Supreme Court has just ruled that these “Amps” are not a protected class opening the door to legal discrimination. Owen Gray is a school teacher who was amped as a teenager to control his epilepsy. Inexplicably included in a list of rogue military Amps he is thrown into the centre of the struggle between for Amp rights. Seen as a potential saviour by some and a threat by others he must not only learn what he can do but also what he should.

Gray is very well crafted. Unlike many protagonists who discover hidden potential he neither transitions comfortably into a hero nor undergoes a series of humorous interludes. His acceptance that he must cease to be a school teacher with a medical implant and become a revolutionary is well paced and has realistic moments of self-hate. Many of the other characters, both normal and amped, are similarly well-rounded. Several of those who have replaced large portions of their bodies with elective prosthetics are especially well written combining an obvious human motivation for the change with the slightly alien character of inhuman capabilities.

However – despite a plot which gave many sides of the debate a fair chance – I found the main antagonist to ultimately be a touch like a Bond villain: megalomaniacal not dedicated.

With a plot centred around the superhuman few being constrained by the weaker many there are some characters who take the same approach as Nietzsche and refuse to accept the unamped as possible social equals. However, Wilson has created equally believable characters with vastly different philosophies. With a background in robotics it is unsurprising that theories of Amps as humans with tools is portrayed with more sympathetically than other views; however this is story that has a sound background and not a veiled treatise.

The chapters are interspersed with memos, press releases, and historical documents such as articles of the United States Constitution. These add depth to the story by freeing the reader from Owen’s direct experience while still keeping the benefit of a single POV. However some of them do not quite fit the point in the narrative where they occur which distracted me slightly from the flow of events.

I enjoyed this book both as a story and as an exploration of where the boundary of human might lie.

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