In June 2011, former robotics engineer Dr Daniel H. Wilson delivered Robopocalypse, about a future in which humanity has become too reliant on its robotic creations, leaving it vulnerable to a wide-scale attack by the world’s first artificial intelligence, Archos. I’ve never read the book, but I’ve heard plenty about it and its academia-inspired realism. Somehow, Wilson’s novel hit the New York Times best sellers’ list and, by the logic of such things, got promptly picked up by Steven Spielberg, earning a 2014 release date before the script was even written.
Now the robotics specialist turned writer brings us Amped, which tells of a persecuted social class called “amps” (humans implanted with a device that gives them super-powers) and of one man’s efforts to both save the world and change its prejudiced ways. I picked up the book on the strength of Spielberg’s interest in the previous novel. “What could go wrong?” I thought, “The book sounds to me like an instant pulp classic!” Instead, Amped straps on some purple prose, hooks up its prosthetic limbs, and then takes a servo-powered belly flop into the remainder bin.
Okay, here’s what we get:
- A near future in which a second-class citizenry is created thanks to upgrades that start off as medical advances, quickly turn into cosmetic upgrades, and then get used for militaristic ends
- A fight for equality with tinges of the civil rights movement
- A fear-mongering “human front” that constantly quotes the Bible (does it matter which?)
- Interspersed BBC clippings to make the story seem more grounded in real life
- A “boy meets girl” plot in which the girl turns out to be the twin sister of the boy’s soon-to-be nemesis
- An additional twist as the boy, Owen Gray, discovers he has next-gen tech implanted in him that he never knew about
- Lots of scenes in which Gray singlehandedly takes down all the bad guys
Did I mention all the cyborgs kicking ass? Because they do! Was that not clear?
In terms of its science-fiction elements, Amped is satisfying, dare I say it, in a robotic sort of way. It succeeds, for example, in keeping one nameless, dispassionate reviewer entertained during a train trip from Toronto to Montreal and nothing else. The twists fall flat, the characters come off generic, their motivations seem vague at best, and the message about equality and human spirit is one we’ve heard many times before.
I am, of course, in no position to comment on whether Wilson’s intimate knowledge of robot apocalypses brings anything new to this novel. After all, the guy has got a BS in computer science, an MS in robotics, another one in machine learning, and a PhD. in robotics. Having mentioned that, I suspect Amped doesn’t really benefit from these degrees. A close reading of some of the X-Men’s most popular storylines, such as “Days of Future Past” or “Age of Apocalypse”, along with any random article on cybernetics from Wired Magazine could give you the know-how to describe the events in this book.
I read it so you don’t have to, folks.