Book Review – Amped

I have probably already mentioned that I am always on the lookout for some new materials to make my introduction to sociology classes more fun and interesting, without sacrificing the content. And, I still live by the mantra the good science-fiction is good sociology. Good science-fiction is always a reflection of our societal fears and anxiety, often related to the side effects of technological advancements and their impact on behavior, social relations, social institutions, etc.

It is with that in mind that I started reading Amped, by Daniel H. Wilson because I was really interested in the premise: in a really not too distant future, technology allows the curing and fixing of many medical (or non-medical) conditions through implantation of technology to the brain (or other body parts) that corrects malfunctions and allow people to function better mentally and physically. This creates a new category of individuals – amped – that have extra skills and abilities. Needless to say, with a premise like that, the potential for sociological analysis seemed really great and I looked forward to adding it to my scifi reading list for sociology students. Unfortunately, that turned out not to be the case.

The main problem is that even though a lot of sociological concepts are indeed applicable to Amped (discrimination – individual and institutional -, segregation, prejudice, structural violence, in-group / out-group dynamics, etc.) and the story is interspersed with extra-narrative features like Supreme Court rulings (that basically deprive Amps of legal existence), political speeches and newspaper articles, there just isn’t enough content there. Once one is past the introductory chapters, it is basically nothing but fight scenes.

And that is a another major issue: there is only ONE (count ’em: one) female character (Lucy, as poor Samantha commits suicide in the opening chapter) and her justification for being in the book is not that she is a character in her own rights but that she reminds other male characters of their humanity. Her role only exists in relations to male characters (Lyle, Owen, Nick), as sister, love interest (who also washes his clothes) and mother. If there were a Bechtel test for books, this one would definitely not pass it.

And the most disappointing aspect of the book (and the reason why it lacks content that I can actually use) is that very quickly, anything the implanted devices can do is reduced to creating super soldiers (hence, the whole fighting thing) and we are repeatedly treated of development of the ways the implants turns one ordinary teacher (the main character) into a super-soldier, fighting other super-soldiers. So, it’s all fight – fight – fight – escape – fight – fight – fight – escape (from super secure facility but it’s a piece of cake for a super soldier) – fight – fight – escape for real – the end.

It is a shame really, because there could have been so much more depth and societal exploration without detracting from a good story (the way China Mieville does it, for instance or the way it is done in David Brin’s Kiln People).

So, I am sorry to say that I will not be using this one in my sociology class. There just isn’t enough there.

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