Daniel H. Wilson
Completed 11/11/2013, Reviewed 11/12/2013
The reason I read this book was because it was the November selection for the local SF book club, and the author, who is a local, would be joining the book club’s discussion. I did a quick search for the author’s bio. He’s a brilliant robotics scientist from
Between reading the book and the bio, I put together my interpretation
of the point of this book. It’s a
bully-revenge fantasy in the national context of Tea Party hate groups
extrapolated to Nazi-like extremes. This
is the kind of story I would have written if I could have voiced my fears and
fantasies when I was a twelve year old nerd who was picked on for being smart.
“Amped” is a fast-paced action novel with an interesting premise. It begins well, giving us the state of a country brimming with hatred toward its half million amps, i.e., citizens implanted with the Neural Autofocus, a device used to help people with mental and physical disabilities overcome their limitations. We learn this as Owen Grey, a school teacher, tries to dissuade an amped student from jumping off a roof. There is an organization, the Pure Human Citizens Council, let by an angry senator, whipping the country toward a Nazi-like frenzy, and quickly stripping the rights of the amped, fueled by the fear that they have an unfair advantage over regular people. The student sees the horror of this future and leaps to her death. Owen, who has an implant to control seizures, finds himself wanted for the suicide of this teen.
The first two chapters gave me high hopes. They set the scene well and immediately set had me empathizing with Owen, the school teacher. Then it falls apart. In the third chapter, Owen finds out from his brilliant neurosurgeon dad that his implant is not what it seems. His implant isn’t just medical, it’s an amp. Not just any amp, but a special amp. He’s just never had full access to its powers. His father tells him he needs to hide out with a kindly old man in
to find out more about his special powers. And he better do it fast because he’s about
to be wanted as an amp terrorist. Eden, Oklahoma
Owen meets a cocky cowboy named, Lyle.
He has one of these special implants and teaches Owen how to use
it. The rest of the book follows the
conflict between Owen and Lyle, and the race to save the amps and the US from the
evil grip of the PHCC. Oh yeah, and Owen
falls in love. And, oh yeah, there’s an
adorable, amped kid who’s a Rubik’s cube prodigy.
The whole “You have special powers. You must learn how to use them” thing really bothered me. When I came to that chapter, it just sighed. It felt so trite. The dialogue quickly degraded as well. After the super powers speech, most of the dialogue seemed forced and standard B-movie stuff. Halfway through the book, I felt like I was reading a treatment for a made for TV movie for the SyFy channel.
All the characters are pulp fare. Lyle is an annoying Matthew McConneghay tough guy character clone. It was almost like
Wilson wrote the part
just for him. Owen started out with some
depth, but then quickly becomes a one-dimensional muddled mess as he learns how
to use his powers. The kid and the love
interest are simple manipulative tools.
The Senator who leads the PHCC is the evil politician. The kindly old
man barely even registers as a character.
I think there should be a special mention of how much
Wilson hates rednecks. With Eden being
located in the middle of Oklahoma,
he blatantly alludes to the stereotypical red-state intolerance he must have
grown up with. Eden is an oasis surrounded by stupid bigots
whose sole purpose in life is to abuse people who are different, just waiting
for the chance to kill them. Wilson treats them the
same way they treat the amps, reducing them to unredeemable lemmings having no
depth, and completely disposable.
I gave this book one star for the initial premise, and because I was picked on for being a nerd, smart, fat, Polish, white, gay. And I had revenge fantasies too. Would I recommend this book to anyone? No.