Audiobook Review: Amped by Daniel H. Wilson

9 07 2012

Amped by Daniel H. Wilson

Read by Robbie Daymond

Random House Audio

Length: 8 Hrs 42 Min

Genre: Science Fiction

Quick Thoughts: Despite flaws in the world building and some flat characters, I enjoyed Amped. It’s a fun surface level chase thriller with some in your face social commentary and interesting technological issues. Those looking for a fun summer thriller and are willing to suspend their disbelief will enjoy the heck out of Amped.

Grade: B

I was a bit hesitant to pick up Amped. I was one of those people that was under whelmed by Robopocalypse.  You would think, for me, the combination of Robots and the Apocalypse would be like combining peanut butter and crack, yet, for many reasons, Robopocalypse just didn’t work for me. Yet, one thing I had to admit, Daniel H. Wilson understands the technology. The concepts behind Amped, the use of technology to enhance and repair humans, fascinated me. In fact, I have been fascinated by Assisted Technology ever since first touring the AT department where I work. I have worked for the past 10 years in various positions at a home\school for people with severe physical and mental disabilities. One of the clients I have worked with has severe cerebral palsy and is a spastic quadriplegic.  The only mobility he has any significant control over is his neck. One of his favorite activities is using the computer, which he operates using a head switch, a single button positioned on the head rest of his wheelchair, which activates a cross scanner to help him type on an onscreen keyboard, and click on icons. It is a slow and laborious process, but ultimately rewarding for him. A few years ago, I saw an article about an experimental technology, where a chip could be implanted somewhere in your head, allowing you to make selections on a computer by simply looking at it. I asked my client if this technology existed, would he want it. I was surprised when he told me "no." When I asked why, he simply told me, "Not for me." Despite my shock, I almost can see where he is coming for. He has lived his entire life in his body, and introducing anything that can change it, for better or worse is scary. Yet, everyday new leaps are made in technology to assist us, whether disabled or not, and it’s an interesting thought experiment to try and figure exactly where the line is drawn for each individual.

Amped takes place in a future reality where the technology exists, in the form of an implant into a person’s brain, to fix certain disabilities, increase intelligence and focus, and control other augmentations to the body. Yet, when a Supreme Court decision declares "amplified humans" to not be a protected class, Owen Gray discovers the implant placed inside his head to control his epilepsy makes him not just a second class citizen, but a hunted criminal. Amped is a high speed action thriller set within a paranoid society, with tons of thrills, thought provoking concepts and high intrigue. Yet, its attempts at social commentary, for me at least, is where the novel falls on its face a bit. The problem I had with Amped was I just couldn’t really buy into the world. In order for Wilson to create a hero in Owen, he needed to take this person who has been given a gift of enhancement, and turn him into an underdog. To do this, Wilson creates a society that hates Amps for these enhancements, and persecutes them for it. Personally, I had trouble buying into the reaction of the public. It seemed that the society of the time fell into two main camps, those who hate Amps, and those who were basically apathetic. Sure, Wilson tries to give brief glimpses of support for Amps, but I felt in a society as polarized as ours, the issues wouldn’t have been as one sided as the narrative made them feel. Also, I feel Wilson brushed past one key issue, that outside the United States, other nations were utilizing and encouraging Amps, and I felt that American xenophobia and desire to be the king of the hill would counterbalance one man’s biased agenda. While many Americans would fear and wish to control Amps, they wouldn’t want to be the only country without them. Despite my issues with the world created, the novel itself was a lot of fun. Wilson definitely has a grasp on the technology, and uses it to create some interesting scenarios. Just exactly how a chip in the brain could amplify the essence of a person, I’m unsure, but Wilson makes it work. Where Amped really worked as opposed to Robopocalypse, is that he creates an interesting character for the readers to follow. There is a hero for us to cheer for and not just a menace to be defeated. Wilson has improved at character development, and while most of the peripheral characters were a tad underdeveloped, it was leaps and bounds better than the caricatures of his last novel. In the end, despite flaws in the world building and some flat characters, I enjoyed Amped. It’s a fun surface level chase thriller, with some in your face social commentary and interesting technological issues. Those looking for a fun summer thriller and are willing to suspend their disbelief will enjoy the heck out of Amped.

Robbie Daymond handled the narration of Amped, and I think he did an excellent job. He captured the youthful naiveté of the main character just right, and had plenty of strong characterizations to fill out the peripheral cast. He reads the action with a crisp, easy to follow pace. The only main complaint is partly due to the writing, and partly due to his inexperience as a narrator. At times, it was hard to differentiate Owen’s internal and external dialogue, until the dialogue tags were spoken. This created a few moments of confusion, since Owen was the type of character to think one thing, and then say another. This skill to create distinguishable internal dialogue is one that many of the top narrators develop, and I feel Daymond has the basic skills and just needs to develop just a bit more nuance in his reading. Daymond’s voice and skills as a narrator definitely served Amped well, and made the audiobook quite an enjoyable listen.

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3 responses

9 07 2012
booksandmovies (@booksandmovies)

I’m glad I read your review, as I was one who gave up on Robopocalypse, mainly because the lack of a coherent narrative and strong central character made it difficult to get drawn into the story. But this one sounds like one I would like, and our library has it for download via Overdrive, so I’ll give it a try.

10 07 2012
Book Nympho

This was a great idea in theory but I don’t think it was fleshed out enough. Plus, like you said, the characters were a little flat. I haven’t read Robopocalypse but after not especially enjoying this and hearing how it was underwhelming to most, I’m hesitant to try it.

14 07 2012
DevourerofBooks (@DevourerofBooks)

Not being able ot buy into the world is a deal killer for me for sure.

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