Owen Gray is an ordinary 29-year-old high school teacher implanted with a medical chip that controls his epilepsy. When the Supreme Court rules that “Amps,” people whose chips give them enhanced abilities, are not a protected class shielded from discrimination, Owen’s father, who’s also his neurosurgeon, reveals that Owen’s chip is “something extra,” and Owen is now in danger from “pure pride” activists. He takes off for an Oklahoma trailer park called Eden where chip designer Jim Howard lives alongside other implantees whose only protection now is each other. Most just want to live normal lives, but ex-soldier Lyle Crosby intends to exploit their enhancements to start a war, and Owen is thrust into the fight. Wilson keeps the action and fear-based prejudice ever-present without sacrificing depth. The story’s heart is the moral quandary Owen faces once he knows his implant only responds to his deepest thoughts, keeping the reader wondering how far he will go and how much he is willing to sacrifice. Agent: Laurie Fox, Linda Chester Literary Agency. (June)
From the Publisher
Praise for Daniel H. Wilson's Amped
“A fast-paced narrative, not too far away at all from everyday experience, that treats an unsettling question: How long will tolerance last once you can buy a better brain?”
—The Wall Street Journal
“With Amped, Wilson has taken another step to claiming the late Michael Crichton's crown as the public's sci-fi thriller writer of choice. . . . Wilson hits all the notes in the right order, and the book’s pace is relentless. And perhaps best of all, he leavens his cautionary message with good-sized dollops of fistfights and gunfire. Amped might have a commendable message about tolerance and civil rights, but Wilson doesn’t let the message get in the way of our fun.”
“A wild ride. . . . Wilson taps into something primal with Amped. . . . Wilson is a roboticist by trade, and he combines his background in science and engineering with a knack for fast-paced narrative. . . . [Amped taps into] some of the deep questions about medical ethics, the social effects of technology, and the way that class and politics make technological questions much harder to resolve”
“A fast-paced, futuristic thriller that’ll make you think, especially about the dangers of us-versus-them demagoguery.”
—Fredericksburg Free Lance Star
“Absorbing . . . Wilson is no stranger to exploring the intersection of technology and humankind. In Amped, certain individuals have technology embedded under their skin. These humans are smarter and faster than norm—and because most of the federally funded upgrades went to the needy, the formerly dumb and afflicted ‘amps’ are scaring the ‘pure’ humans. The not-so-distant future is a hotbed of class war and civil unrest.”
“A fast-paced narrative, not too far away at all from everyday experience, that treats an unsettling question: How long will tolerance last once you can buy a better brain? Mr. Wilson recognizes that, in the modern world, the battlegrounds would be legal and political, not just physical.”
—The Wall Street Journal
“Fast-paced . . . fascinating . . . for hardcore sci-fi readers, Amped offers plenty of juicy details to savor. As he showed in his bestselling thriller Robopocalypse, Daniel H. Wilson can write. The Carnegie Mellon-trained roboticist has a voice and style very much like Stephen King. But unlike King, Wilson also has the chops to base the weird beings in his stories on hard science.”
—Wired’s Geek Dad
“Entertaining . . . propulsive . . . Amped [is] a gripping story of a community of Amps trying to make it in the middle of a prejudiced Oklahoma, where regular humans strike back at anyone with a telltale port on their temple. A piece of trenchant political science fiction about how we mistreat those who are different.”
—The Onion A.V. Club
“Amped beckons back to the Civil Rights era, when the definition and rights of American citizens were called into question.”
“Wilson keeps the action and fear-based prejudice ever-present without sacrificing depth. The story’s heart is the moral quandary Owen faces once he knows his implant only responds to his deepest thoughts, keeping the reader wondering how far he will go and how much he is willing to sacrifice.”
“Provocative . . . A thoughtful, well-written novel which deals with the often tense interplay between machines and humans. Wilson, whose prose is always a step above the norm, is at his strongest creating amp augmented action sequences and in conjuring situations which explore the boundaries between humankind and its technological creations.”
“Thrilling . . . First he gave us helpful advice for the robot uprising, then he wrote the robot war novel Robopocalypse. Now Daniel H. Wilson is turning his attention to the plight of cyborgs and posthumans with his dystopian new novel Amped.”
“Wilson’s newest novel, Amped, shares with its predecessor [Robopocalypse] a solid basis in current scientific technology—in this case, neural implants that treat a variety of conditions. Amped imagines a not-too-distant world, when these ‘superabled’ people—made stronger, smarter, faster by the devices in their heads—are perceived as a threat to unaltered or ‘pure’ humans.”
“This is a terrific book on any number of levels, doing what sf has always been able to do best: showing us a possible future so that we can not only attempt to avoid it, but we can also look at its echoes as they already exist in our own time.” —The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction
In the near future, a schoolteacher with a cranially implanted "amp" must master an array of hidden talents when a wave of bigotry against those like him threatens to tear the country apart. A few decades ago, the government began installing "amps"--small devices, generally designed to aid in concentration and mental focus--into the brains of underprivileged and otherwise challenged children. Now, a political movement led by a rabble-rousing Senator seeks to strip "amps" (as implanted individuals are derogatorily called) of their basic rights as citizens based on the argument that they are no longer truly human. Teacher and amp Owen Gray, troubled after witnessing the suicide of an amp student, learns from his scientist father that the implant he received as a teen is something rather more than the anti-epilepsy device he'd always thought it was. Gray leaves moments before an explosion kills his father and destroys his lab. Following his father's last advice and fearing for his life, Gray heads for an amp haven--a trailer park in Oklahoma called Eden. There he meets Lyle Crosby, an amp whose military-grade Zenith class amp makes him a super soldier. As Lyle helps Owen unlock the hidden powers bestowed on him by his supercharged amp, Owen must decide how far he's willing to follow the charismatic but unpredictable and often violent Lyle, as tensions between amps and non-amps come to a head nationwide. Wilson delivers a thoughtful, well-written novel, which, like his previous novel Robopocalypse (2011), deals with the often tense interplay between machines and humans. Unfortunately, while he nails the machine part, the human part falls a little short. The characters lack depth, and a crucial romantic relationship feels forced and unearned. The plot is thin, too, hewing too closely to archetype. Wilson, whose prose is always a step above the norm, is at his strongest creating amp-augmented action sequences and in conjuring situations which explore the boundaries between humankind and its technological creations. Provocative, with strong action sequences, but weak in character development and plotting.
Read an Excerpt
The First Step
I’m standing on the steep slate roof of Allderdice High School, gripping a rain-spattered wrought iron decoration in one hand and holding up my other hand, palm out.
“Don’t,” I’m saying to the girl in front of me. “Please don’t.”
My hand wavers, tracing incantations of fear and panic in the air. Just beyond my outstretched fingers is something that has been spiraling out of control for years. Only I shouldn’t call her something. Should never call her a thing.
Somebody is what I mean.
It’s the technology, see? We can’t get away from it. Anywhere you find people, you find it. Clever little contraptions. Cunning strategies. We’re toolmakers born and bred; and even if you don’t believe in anything else, you’d better believe in that. Because that’s human nature.
It’s the tools that make us strong.
And it’s the tools that put a girl on the edge of this roof. I crawled out here against all advice the second I heard who it was. I owe this girl a debt and I can never repay it but I’m doing my best to try.
Samantha is just fifteen. The wind is smearing her brown hair against gray skies, pushing her tears in streaks across her blank, emotionless face. Allderdice is a massive school, built during the industrial genesis of Pittsburgh. Sam stands on the precipice, six stories up. The rain is spitting at us through afternoon sunlight, and the dull stone building seems to be bleeding or crying or both.
I can’t believe she’s really going to jump. Not after all she’s been through.
You make a tool to fix a problem, right? But—and I’ve thought about this—it’s the boundaries that define us. Bold, black lines that can’t be crossed—the limits of human ability. Lately, the edges have been torn off the map.
Now we’re all getting lost.
Eight years ago a little kid named Samantha Blex missed a week of class. In the first photos on the news, you could see Sam was a little cross-eyed. She smiled a lot through her kid-sized purple eyeglasses. Cute. The kid was all slobber and grubby fingers and grins. Had a habit of putting blocks in her mouth.
That’s why, when Samantha walked back into school after her weeklong hiatus, a lot of the other kids’ parents were scared. Terrified is more like it. A textbook case of fight or flight, with a serious lean toward fight.
See, Sam wasn’t cross-eyed when she came back to class. She didn’t put blocks in her mouth anymore, either. In fact, Samantha Blex pretty quickly demonstrated that she was now the smartest kid in third grade. After a few breathless rounds of testing, Sam turned out to be in the top-hundredth percentile on citywide intelligence tests.
The kid had one hell of a week away.
In an interview, Sam’s teacher told a reporter in a shaky voice that he wasn’t sure if Sam was still the same little girl, now that she’d visited her doctor and been given a Neural Autofocus implant. That quote grabbed a lot of airtime. I felt really bad about it later. Should have known better than to say it.
And that’s how it started. With sweet little Sam walking back into my classroom, looking me right in the eye with a new spark of intelligence—a new electricity altogether.
Where’d the spark come from? It’s simple enough. An aspirin-sized piece of conductive metal, an amp, carefully placed in the prefrontal cortex of the kid’s brain. A baby squid pulsing with an exquisitely timed series of electrical stimulations, gently pushing her mind toward the beta one wave state. Focused concentration, 24-7. This sharpened focus massively amplified her intelligence, bulldozing away the dim, mild, slobber-mouthed little girl I knew.
And only a little nub of dark plastic on her temple, like a mole, to show for it. A maintenance port.
Just like mine.
“I know how you feel, Sam,” I call to the coltish teen on the roof. “I get the stares. I hear the whispers. We can make it through this.”
I’m flawed hardware, like anybody. Have been for a long time. Epilepsy. My doctor says it’s a Tower of Babel in my head and I believe him. Of course, I would. My doctor is my father.
But the nub on my temple doesn’t lead to anything as hot shit as a General Biologics Neural Autofocus unit. It’s just a simple stimulator designed to treat epilepsy and keep me from swallowing the old tongue. Proverbially. Dad has always said that doesn’t really happen.
Still, turning my implant off is not an option. And that’s the bitch of it. These tools we love so much have burrowed under our skin like parasites. They’re in our brains now, our joints and organs. Crouching behind our eyeballs and clinging to our sinuses. Making us smarter and stronger and always, always more dependent.
“You don’t know how it feels,” says Sam. “You’re medical. Not elective. You’ve got no inkling.”
Sometime in the past, in some sterile office, a doctor said Sam had a problem. She had a little trouble concentrating, that’s all. But there was a solution available. And her parents chose to use it. They had a little bit of money and they wanted the best for their daughter and they were willing to take the risk. Any parent might have done the same.
“You didn’t choose this, Sam.”
“Tell me about it,” she mutters, eyeing the ground.
It was my first year teaching. Age twenty-two. Those chubby faces with their quick eyes sent me packing to teach high school the very next year. But I was there. I watched it all begin. Now, I’m crouching on the roof and inching away from the safety of the window and I’m watching it end.
“Stop that, Mr. Gray,” Samantha warns. She sounds slightly irritated, as if she’d caught me picking my nose. “Don’t come any fucking closer.”
I’m creeping across the spine of the building toward her now. A shivering, cowardly twenty-nine-year-old turtle on a slippery log. My knees and crotch and chest are blotched with water, my cheeks sprinkled with drops. Please, please, please, I’m thinking. Please don’t let me slip and fall and die this morning with my water-splotched crotch and my goddamn useless pencils in my shirt pocket and my soft clean hands with no calluses on them. This roof is slicker than ice. Slicker than a fucking waterslide and there’s no going back, so I hump it forward and ignore Sam’s annoyed voice.
She gives up protesting, and waits.
It was the Pure Human Citizen’s Council that pressured schools across the country into barring implanted kids. They said the few modified kids were taking precious resources away from the vast majority of human kids. It was true and Allderdice agreed, but Samantha’s parents were passionate and that’s how she ended up before the Supreme Court. A poster child for the inevitable future.
The lawyers picked Sam because she was a straight Neural Autofocus job. The nub on her temple wasn’t connected to the minnow’s flash of a retinal implant in her eye or a gleaming prosthetic limb. She was just a little girl, pretty and pure—save the one inhuman flaw buried inside, the truth of it flickering out into her IQ score.
Finally, my face crosses over into shadow. I see a knee-length skirt snapping in the breeze. Samantha stands with her hands on her hips, resigned.
I realize that she hasn’t jumped yet because she is trying to figure out how to make sure I am safe. A relieved breath hisses out of me, a whimper. We both hear it and think about it for a second.
“Jesus, you’re a pussy,” says Samantha. She glowers down at me like a ship’s figurehead sprouting from the peak of the roof. Too hard to be made of wood. Made of metal. Little flecks of it, anyway.
“I’m jumping,” she says. “Trust me, you’d have jumped years ago.”
“Shut your mouth,” she snaps. “You don’t know shit. I’m smarter than you, remember? You couldn’t teach me back then, so why try to talk to me now? Just shut up. I’m jumping. The impact is going to kill me instantly. It’ll take about two seconds to fall.”
Immediately I think of how she looked in those little purple eyeglasses. The memory of her floats like a haze over this teenage girl in front of me. It was too much, the gap between the old Samantha and the new. Something broke in that week she was gone. A piece of her must have got lost in the transition.
Samantha glances down. “It looks like I’ll hit damp grass, which doesn’t mean I won’t die. That’s inevitable from this height. I’ll have accelerated to about forty miles an hour. But the grass is good. It means that when I hit, there’s a solid chance my guts won’t spray out of my mouth and asshole.”
I just blink. Her words are a rock wall and I’ve rammed into it going full speed with all the momentum gathered by an idealistic career teaching mostly docile students. I mean, I know that the obedient kids I teach are different from the ones who stream out into the world at the end of the day. But I never fathomed this kind of talk. This never showed up from eight to three. It was trapped inside the desks and books and held back by, what? The threat of detention, I guess.
Samantha doesn’t seem worried about detention.
“And don’t think that nub on your temple makes you anything besides a spaz, Gray. Sorry. I meant to say autosomal dominant frontal lobe epileptic. Yes, we all know.”
She taps the mole-sized nub that protrudes from her right temple, clear hazel eyes shining in the spotty sunlight.
“This, Mr. Gray. This is really something. You know, right after I got this, I was actually looking forward to coming back to school. I didn’t see things so clearly then.”
“You can’t listen to other kids,” I say. “They’re only jealous.”
“Kids?” she asks. “You think this is Algernon syndrome? That dumb little Samantha woke up and realized the other kids were mean? I haven’t worried about children since the third grade. It’s the rest of the world, Mr. Gray. Allderdice is a microcosm. And the larger world hates us. To quote the Honorable Chief Justice Anfuso, ‘The existence of a class of superabled citizens threatens to pull apart the fabric of our society.’ There’s no place for me here. Or anywhere else.”
“That’s today. But what about tomorrow? What about the Free Body Liberty Group? We don’t know what might happen,” I urge.
“The world has been changing, Mr. Gray. People have been waiting for permission to hate us. Now all the evil is going to come out. There are too many of them and not nearly enough of us. This has all happened before. It will end the same. In labor camps. Mass graves.” She looks at me with pity. “You’re a dead man walking. How pathetic that you don’t even know it.”
Somehow, I find the courage to crouch on cramping legs. I reach my wavering hand out to her, feeling the warm lick of rain on it.
“Please, Samantha,” I’m saying.
“You were right,” she says.
“About what?” I ask.
“What you told those reporters. You said you didn’t know who I was when I came back. It’s true. I’m not the same girl.”
“Don’t do this. We’ll fight them. I promise you, Sam.”
“Sam’s gone. I’m somebody else. Somebody that never should have existed.”
I’m shouting and standing up and I’ve forgotten to be afraid. As I reach for her, I see her tear-streaked face between my fingers for a frozen instant. Her eyes are wide open when she steps off the roof.
Eight years ago, a little girl named Samantha Blex missed a week of school. When she came back, she changed the world. And this morning, she left it.