Hacking Humanity

Title: Upgrade
Author: Blake Crouch
Genre: Near-future Sci-fi Action Thriller
Pages: 352
Rating: 3.5 of 5

Thank you to the author and publisher for a free eARC via NetGalley. This in no way affects the content of the review.

Blake Crouch (Dark Matter) is back with another sci-fi thriller that explores a complex scientific concept while having a protagonist run around and be violent in various action set pieces. In this instance, his plot revolves around an attempt to upgrade humanity through genetic manipulation.

How much you buy into the plot will depend on how readily you accept (at least for the sake of the story):

  • The conviction that humanity is almost inevitably headed for self-induced extinction very soon, mostly due to anthropogenic climate change that could be stopped with the right kind of behavior that most people are just too stupid/stubborn to do.
  • The assumption that virtually everything that makes us human, including emotions, ethics, and moral behavior, is the product of our genes as shaped by evolution (and can be changed by genetic manipulation).

Overall, it’s okay for an action-packed “enhanced human / ticking time bomb / special forces” sort of thriller, but the bombast contrasted oddly with the preachiness and scientific jargon that was driving the plot. It reminded me quite a bit of Michael Crichton’s blend of preachy “science” and action, but I generally found Crichton more enjoyable. Obviously, your mileage may vary depending on personal taste.

Back to the Classics (Kind of)

Title: Classic Monsters Unleashed
Authors: 30 of “the biggest names in the genre” (according to Amazon)
Editor: James Aquilone
Genre: Horror Story Anthology
Pages: 443
Rating: 3.5 of 5
Future Publication Date: July 12, 2022 (Thank you to the authors and publisher for a free eARC via NetGalley. This in no way affects the content of the review.)

Your enjoyment of this collection will hinge quite a bit on how much you know and appreciate classic monster stories, especially as they have been portrayed on the big screen. With most of the entries you need at least a passing knowledge of the original (or classic screen-adapted) version for the “unleashed” story to really make sense.

There is good variety in the monsters/creatures featured across the collection. I think that Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, and werewolves are the only ones to make multiple appearances with 2-3 apiece (pretty impressive in a collection of 29 stories).

That being said, most of the plots fell into just a handful of categories used in various combinations:

  1. Classic monster returns to cause more mayhem.
  2. Try to guess which monster this is about before the big reveal…
  3. Recast monster as misunderstood victim and/or hero as the villain.
  4. Gender swap characters.
  5. Engage in social commentary on gender or race.

I preferred the stories that built on the already-established characters rather than completely re-imagining them, but that’s just my personal taste.

Stylistically, this was a mixed bag. Some stories felt stilted, as if the author was just phoning it in and checking off the boxes needed to make a creature feature. Others demonstrated creativity and variety in language usage (including annoying but clever use of textspeak in Dacre Stoker’s offering). I would say that the well-written outnumber the “meh.”

Overall, this is worth a read if you are into classic monster horror. However, as with many bulky themed anthologies, you might want to take some time between stories so that they don’t start to sound repetitive.