Upgrade by Blake Crouch

Upgrade by Blake Crouch
Upgrade by Blake Crouch

The novel “Upgrade” by Blake Crouch was published for the first time in 2022.

Logan Ramsay is an agent of the Gene Protection Agency (GPA) and is also the son of Miriam Ramsay, the scientist who attempted to use genetic engineering to improve crops but ended up causing the worst famine in the history of humanity. His job is to enforce the very strict laws against genetic engineering and he’s working on a case of geneticists who are working secretly.

When Logan Ramsay and his partner Nadine Nettmann arrest a suspect, he seems ready to cooperate by revealing the location of what is supposed to be an underground laboratory. Actually, it’s a trap and Logan becomes infected with a virus that starts modifying his DNA.

In a few dozen pages, Blake Crouch projects the reader into a not-so-distant future where any form of genetic engineering has been outlawed after an attempt to eliminate world hunger had the opposite effect. The author manages to include different points of view regarding the risks and opportunities of genetic modifications while the protagonist Logan Ramsay is in the midst of his work.

Today we know thousands of genetic diseases and which mutations cause them but this is only the simplest side of the problem because modifying the DNA of a person affected by one of those diseases would involve replacing mutated genes with working ones of which we know functions and effects. More sophisticated changes, such as those that could affect agricultural yields, would always have some unknowns and the risk of unexpected effects.

Logan Ramsay wanted to work for the GPA but it’s a job he hates because he’s forced to arrest geneticists who are sometimes working in secret on eliminating genes that predispose to forms of cancer. The ethical and moral problems linked to choices regarding genetic engineering remain central throughout the novel following the protagonist’s reflections. They also concern mass surveillance, increased under the guise of fighting clandestine genetic engineering.

The themes developed in the novel are important because they concern not only the future described by Blake Crouch but the present as well. That’s because they concern the behavior of human beings during the crises they face throughout history. Chimpanzees face each other by throwing their feces at each other, humans throw each other stones, bombs, and one day they could even “throw” pieces of DNA at each other. In the end, however, these are the behaviors of a minority while the majority does nothing, absolutely nothing, which is sometimes even worse.

Humans also have the ability to spread incomplete or false information that leads other humans to believe that a global problem doesn’t actually exist. Often this conclusion comes only because it’s more convenient to believe information that in some cases is clearly false just to be able to delude oneself that the problem doesn’t exist. Who is the worst between these people and the warmongers? What can the minority that wants to be part of the solution do? What’s the origin of this type of attitude? What can be done to fight it? These types of problems are addressed as well with various ethical and moral considerations.

All this makes “Upgrade” a novel in which in my opinion, Blake Crouch manages to superbly blend intense action, introspection, and the best speculation about a future that may be near. Genetic engineering techniques are being perfected at a very fast pace and will force us to decide what to do with them. Can we afford to use them? Can we afford not to use them? The questions posed by the author go far beyond, as they concern human nature and how humanity faces the future, which is why in my opinion, it’s a must-read novel.

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