Review of Blake Crouch’s ‘Upgrade’ – A compulsive page turner as good as a summer blockbuster

Stop me if you’ve heard this before. A dystopian future destroyed by climate change and other semi-apocalyptic events. Excessive police force enforcing questionable laws. And an officer who quickly transforms into what he was hunting. If you immediately thought of a dozen different sci-fi books and movies, that’s completely understandable. Despite the pleasure of reading Blake Crouch’s new novel, Upgrade, is, I would not say that it is very original. However, what it lacks in originality it more than makes up for with intricate twists and plenty of thrilling action sequences. Upgrade reads like the literary equivalent of a summer blockbuster movie in the best possible way. It’s a compulsive read from start to finish and a perfect book for summer vacation.

A familiar plot; But still fun

In the future, all forms of gene therapy, experimentation, and research have been banned after a devastating famine caused by a genetic experiment gone wrong. Enforcing the ban is the GPA, an FBI-like government agency tasked with tracking down all rogue geneticists. After a failed raid, GPA agent Logan Ramsay discovers he has been infected with an unknown virus. A virus that slowly alters his DNA, enhancing his mental and physical prowess and turning him into the kind of anomaly the GPA hunts down. To make matters worse, Logan thinks his upgrade was no accident at all. That this is the start of something worse, something with a dark connection to his past, and something only he can stop.

Reduced to its simplest elements, Upgrade resembles a number of similar science fiction stories. A little of blade runner here a little Matrix the. You had the idea. However, it is not necessarily a wrong thing. Whereas Upgrade doesn’t add much to those worn tropes, it never fails to be absolutely engrossing. Between the fast pace, restrained exposition dumps, heart-pounding action sequences, and moments of tense political intrigue, Upgrade hits the ground running and never takes his foot off the accelerator.

Of course, the middle of the novel feels both too short and too long, resulting in a climax that doesn’t land as effectively as it could have. But honestly, there’s little reason to be crazy. It’s like feeling Upgrade tries to be the literary equivalent of a fun blockbuster movie. And in this sense, Upgrade succeeds hands down.

A gripping family drama that’s a bit underexplored

Because as similar as Logan feels to dozens of other characters, Crouch makes sure you always feel connected with him. There’s never a moment when you don’t sympathize with him, even when he questions his humanity or does questionable things. Talking too much about Logan’s backstory would be venturing too far into spoiler territory, and Upgrade is a book best read intact. So, keeping it as vague as possible, there’s genuinely engrossing family drama at the heart of this book. And it’s this drama that helps the book stand out from the crowd of similar stories.

Unfortunately, Upgrade doesn’t focus enough on this family drama. This is a large part of the reason why the middle of the book sags. This is the part of the story where you would think the author would go deeper into his themes, exploring all aspects of the central conflict. But Upgrade only flirts with it, as if in a constant rush to climax as quickly as possible.

For one thing, this approach keeps things pretty lively. But on the other hand, it prevents the story from reaching its full potential. Despite all of this, however, Crouch does a great job of focusing on the humanity at the center of Upgrade. Both at the macro level and at the micro level. And these parts of the book turn out to be surprisingly moving. I wish some of the other characters had received the same attention as Logan. But sometimes you take what you can get.

Final Thoughts

Globally, Upgrade is an absolutely delightful read. Yes, it’s easy to see how it could have been even better, had he focused a little more on his themes and delved a little deeper into some of his interpersonal conflicts. But for what it tries to be, it’s never anything less than fun. This is the very definition of fast and compulsive reading. The kind of book you could easily read on a relaxing summer weekend. It’s a tense, action-packed ride that’s as thrilling as the best blockbuster of the summer. If you’re a fan of similar dystopian sci-fi stories, Upgrade well worth a read.

Upgrade releases July 12 in hardcover, ebook, and audiobook formats.

Disclaimer: A review copy of Upgrade was provided by Ballantine Books and Penguin Random House. All opinions expressed in this review are the honest reactions of the author.