Daniel H. Wilson's 2011 novel, Robopocalypse, drew on the author's extensive education in robotics to craft a compelling and well-conceived take on what happens when technology takes over and how it might operate as a sentient and aggressive entity.
His recently published follow-up novel, Amped, explores similarly well-conceived territory, but this time Wilson focuses on how society might react to the fusion of humanity and technology instead of technology that exists autonomously.
In Amped's not-too-distant future, small brain implants can be used to monitor and regulate conditions like epilepsy, the results of severe head trauma or even augment how people with developmental disabilities function. But the implants can also work like a radioactive spider: supercharging the mental or physical abilities of those bitten, something implant-free humans take issue with as they begin to be surpassed by the "amps."
After The U.S. Supreme Court decides that the implants are not an immutable characteristic but an elective surgery--meaning Brown v. Board of Education and the 14th Amendment do not apply and discrimination against amps is legal and acceptable-- a fierce culture war between natural and implanted Americans begins to turn violent. Millions of Americans are fired from their jobs, evicted from their homes and attacked in the streets, huddling together in camps and rural areas for protection.
Caught up in the middle of the madness is former high-school teacher Owen Gray, who has just learned that the implant he thought was managing his epilepsy is actually an experimental military-grade chip that can turn him into a super-soldier, if he allows it to. As Gray's world crumbles around him and he becomes a fugitive from justice, he grapples with the decision of whether to turn to violence and whether it will lead to justice or simply revenge.
Like Robopocalypse, the book is rife with tightly paced action and highly plausible concepts of cybernetic development. And Wilson works in a fair share of humanity as well, including an old-fashioned cyborg-meets-girl love story.
But the book also feels a little rushed, with some of the details of the richly imagined world brushed past in the prose. Images that deserved paragraphs are given sentences and plot points that could have used a page sometimes only get a paragraph. That leaves Amped more of a high-concept action novel in the vein of Michael Crichton than it does a sci-fi classic in the vein of his last book.
On the whole, however, Amped is a compelling and brisk read with a lot more to offer than the average thriller.