Upgrade by Blake Crouch fantasy book reviewsUpgrade by Blake Crouch fantasy book reviewsUpgrade by Blake Crouch

I chose Blake Crouch’s 2022 novel Upgrade out of curiosity because I’d never read anything of his. He is a popular author whose books are everywhere, and he writes thrillers, usually with a speculative-fiction flavor. I’d heard of him years ago when Fox TV made a show based on his WAYWARD trilogy, and the one or two episodes I saw (Season 1) had a nifty, paranoid, who-can-you-trust vibe. Upgrade shares that vibe.

My plot synopsis may contain mild spoilers. I don’t think they’re real spoilers though—we all know our tropes.

All of this is to say I’m reviewing Upgrade knowing I am not its target reader, and some of my comments will reflect that. I’d categorize Upgrade as a fun summer read. It’s fast-paced, with lots of chase scenes and action, anchored by a premise that should generate some good conversations among readers. (Is it possible to completely overwrite DNA and “improve” a species? If it is, should we do it?)

Those questions are the starting point of Upgrade. In the opinion of Logan Ramsay’s mother, a brilliant geneticist, the answer to both the questions above is “Yes.” Dr. Ramsay is a globally reviled villain after one of her experiments, designed to facilitate wheat growth, failed, leading to a fast-spreading blight and worldwide famine. As her son and lab technician, Logan served a prison sentence as a proxy for his mother, who committed suicide although they never found a body. Now he’s part of the enforcement bureau of the Genetic Protection Act, who stop any genetic research at all. You can’t “unring the bell,” though, and secret experiments are going on everywhere.

Logan is ambushed, and then whisked off to a black site by his own agency, who monitor changes as various parts of his brain begin to change. He’s been dosed with something that is rewriting his genome, making him more resilient, smarter, more observant… moving him, in fact, into superhuman territory. With the help of a surprising ally, Logan breaks out and begins exploring what’s happened to him. Of course, his search leads him back to where everything started—and uncovers a conspiracy to change humanity.

Blake Crouch

Blake Crouch

The stretch of imprisonment, with Logan cataloguing the altered genes for us, was tedious, but for the most part Upgrade rockets along, featuring heists, chase scenes, more than one escape, double and triple crosses. Once in a while, Logan slows his pace long enough to look around and give us a description of lovely scenery, to think back to his wife and daughter, or deliver exposition about the backstory with his mother. A lot of the quieter moments still seemed devoted to the laundry list of genes that are getting remodeled. I think “Flip this Genome” would have been a good alternative title to the story.

I believe that Crouch has his characters richly detailed in his imagination, but the form and style of the book doesn’t leave much time for character development beyond the types. Logan, in particular, is the Exceptional Lone Male. He can’t return to his wife and daughter because he will put them in danger. He must forge on alone, which, fortunately, he can because he’s supersmart, superfast and superstrong. Crouch has also figured out that “show don’t tell” is a rule for suckers, at least in this genre, because he has a first-person narrator who can tell us whatever he wants. Upgrade doesn’t want to delve into the layered, complicated morality of “Just because we can, should we?” It wants to deliver thrills and chills, so Dr. Ramsay’s original choice is quickly shown to have a serious logic flaw. Her basic premise was wrong, so there’s no need to dwell on the deeper ethical issues of her work.

This leaves the action scenes. I loved them. Crouch writes “fast-paced” like nobody’s business. He is the master of the sentence fragment, used to indicate a person in the throes of an adrenaline rush, and to drive up the suspense. In a later scene in the book, Logan is charging through a flooded Manhattan office building. He races up flight after flight of stairs. Soon, Crouch simply lists numbers, 27, 28, 29… to demonstrate Logan’s focus and speed. And keep us on the edges of our chairs.

And it works.

Will I seek out other Blake Crouch books? Probably not. Did I like this one? I did. Crouch knows what he wants to write and delivers his product reliably. It’s the perfect beach or by-the-pool book, maybe even the book to take if you’re stuck at the DMV waiting for your number to show up on the screen. It’s not my first choice, but it was fun.

Published in 2022. At first, Logan Ramsay isn’t sure if anything’s different. He just feels a little . . . sharper. Better able to concentrate. Better at multitasking. Reading a bit faster, memorizing better, needing less sleep. But before long, he can’t deny it: Something’s happening to his brain. To his body. He’s starting to see the world, and those around him—even those he loves most—in whole new ways. The truth is, Logan’s genome has been hacked. And there’s a reason he’s been targeted for this upgrade. A reason that goes back decades to the darkest part of his past, and a horrific family legacy. Worse still, what’s happening to him is just the first step in a much larger plan, one that will inflict the same changes on humanity at large—at a terrifying cost. Because of his new abilities, Logan’s the one person in the world capable of stopping what’s been set in motion. But to have a chance at winning this war, he’ll have to become something other than himself. Maybe even something other than human.


  • Marion Deeds

    Marion Deeds, with us since March, 2011, is the author of the fantasy novella ALUMINUM LEAVES. Her short fiction has appeared in the anthologies BEYOND THE STARS, THE WAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE, STRANGE CALIFORNIA, and in Podcastle, The Noyo River Review, Daily Science Fiction and Flash Fiction Online. She’s retired from 35 years in county government, and spends some of her free time volunteering at a second-hand bookstore in her home town.

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