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.

Audiobook Review: Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson

12 06 2011

Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson

Read by Mike Chamberlain

Random House Audio

Genre: Robot Apocalypose

Quick Thoughts: While a fast, fun listen, I was unable to truly connect with the characters or situation on any significant level, partly due to Mike Chamberlains disjointed narration.

Grade: B-

The Apocalyptic novel has seen lots of progressions. Pre-WW2, the majority of the “end of the world” scenarios were out of the hands of man, there were plagues, like Shelley’s Last Man and and Jack London’s The Scarlet Plague, and there were astronomical catastrophes like Well’s In the Days of the Comet and Wyle’s When Worlds Collide. Even outside forces bring about the end such as HG Well’s alien menace in War of the Worlds, and the bizarre North Pole thingamajig that killed off the planet in MR Shiel’s The Purple Clouds. Yet, as we enter the nuclear age, more and more often it’s man’s creations or neglect that end up killing us, the plagues are man-made, the ecological disasters brought on by Global Warming, and the robots begin to rise. As technology increases and the world grows smaller, it seems more and more likely that we are all going to die by our own creations. Well, until we do, we can at least get some good books and movies out of the deal. Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson is the latest apocalyptic tale where man’s creations, here being artificial intelligence and robotics, become our greatest enemies. It is told in a series of first person and third person accounts of heroic survivors of Zero Hour, the day of the initial coordinated robot attack, who work to find a way to defeat an Artificial Intelligence called Arcos who is bent on the systematic slaughter of the majority of mankind.

The story of Robopocalypse centers on one man, Cormack Wallace, as he relates important stories of key figures in the battle to stop the robots. Because of this style of storytelling the narrative jumps around a lot, telling key stories about key moments, without a lot of set up and staging. In this way, the book is reminiscent of Max Brook’s World War Z. The major difference is that Wilson’s tale follows a select group of reoccurring characters as pivotal players in the war. While the action is crisp, and the increasing evolution of the machines is fascinating, do not expect a detailed character drama. The characters exist solely for what they can contribute to the fight, and when there contribution is complete they disappear with a solemn statement that they were never heard from again. The story progression is fast, and every scene in the book is significant, yet it was hard to become emotionally attached to the situation and characters. Even the motivations of the AI were hard to understand. Science fiction and Apocalyptic fans will embrace this novel and have fun with it, I know I did. I just have trouble seeing Robopocalypse having the crossover appeal of World War Z, or other breakout science fiction hits.

I think some of my lack of connection with the story may have come from the lackluster performance of the narrator, Mike Chamberlain. Chamberlain has an excellent narrative voice, it’s strong and clear, yet, just reading a tale like this is not enough. A good audiobook narrator makes many choices during a reading, and I question many of the ones made by Chamberlain. His reading of the first person account of a congresswoman trying to save her children came off quite disjointed and confusing when the narrator created a female voice for her dialogue but continued with his male narrative voice reading the other parts of the account. At other points in the book he maintains the chosen voice of a character thought the entire first person account. Another example of his discontinuity was when he gave sort of a cockney accent to a British hacker, yet read the tale of the Japanese robotic mechanic as Middle American, with no real attempts at creating a Japanese character voice. Even the childlike voice of the AI, which should have come off creepy, instead just sounded bratty. Perhaps, this novel would have been greatly improved by an additional narrator who could fill out Chamberlain’s weaknesses. Sadly, Chamberlain’s disjointed performance and bad narrative choices made what could have been an excellent audiobook listening experience into merely a fun, but forgettable listen.