40 pages 1 hour read

Blake Crouch


Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2022

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Summary and Study Guide


Set in the near future, Upgrade is a 2022 science-fiction thriller by Blake Crouch that imagines a world in the initial stages of catastrophic climate change. Simultaneously, the novel examines how genetic engineering can go awry and wreak a catastrophe of its own. At the heart of the novel is a central question: As humanity becomes increasingly endangered by the effects of climate change, is it ethical to pursue solutions by altering the human genome, sometimes with deadly consequences? Known for science-fiction and thriller titles—one of which, Wayward Pines, was adapted into a 2015 TV series—Crouch blends elements of both genres to weave a suspenseful and thought-provoking plot that examines the emotional impacts societal and personal catastrophes have on individuals and relationships.

The edition used for this guide is the 2022 Kindle edition.

Content Warning: The source material includes discussion of suicide.

Plot Summary

Logan Ramsay is a law-enforcement official for the recently created agency Gene Protection Agency (GPA). As the novel begins, he and his partner, Nadine, have tracked down a man who is suspected of associating with illicit-market genetic-engineering operations. This is a routine raid in a world where all such engineering has been banned in response to a global catastrophe known as the Great Starvation, in which an attempt to genetically fortify crops caused a global famine that killed 200 million people. Logan’s own mother, the deceased geneticist Miriam Ramsay, was the intellectual driving force behind the disaster. Logan went to prison for his own role in it, and Miriam died by suicide—another tragedy in a family already impacted by the losses of Logan’s twin brother and father. This leaves only Logan and his sister, Kara, to deal with the family legacy.

Once apprehended, their suspect, Henrik Soren, provides Logan and Nadine with an address. After the initial investigation of the location turns up nothing, Logan searches the basement, where he discovers two spheres of ice—which turn out to be explosive devices. Logan is caught in the trajectory of the explosion and suffers severe injuries. Recovering in the hospital, Logan falls ill with extreme flu-like symptoms, including a life-threatening fever and bouts of delirium, as well as increased bone density. Eventually stabilized, Logan is released after a few weeks.

However, back home with his wife, Beth, and teenage daughter, Ava, Logan soon begins noticing gradual but striking improvements in his cognitive abilities, specifically regarding focus, comprehension, and memory. He begins reading voraciously in subjects that he previously found difficult and also experiences muscular and bone pain. He seeks the counsel of a doctor, who tests his DNA and learns that it has been altered. The GPA immediately imprisons Logan on the grounds that he has self-edited his genes. As they run tests on him to discover the source of his new powers, the agency notifies his wife and daughter that he has been killed, indicating that he will be a permanent prisoner.

Ultimately, Logan is liberated from detainment by his sister, Kara, a former special-forces operative who recently experienced the same genetic upgrade. Pursuing clues their mother left them, Logan and Kara discover that Miriam faked her suicide after the Great Starvation and has only recently died. The upgrade is her technology; she left them instructions for dispersing it across the entire population as a means of preventing human extinction—although it may kill as many as a billion people in the process. While Logan objects to the dire plan, Kara is intent on carrying it out. Immediately, sensing Logan’s definitive stance against Miriam’s request, Kara tries to kill him. Logan is injured but survives; now his mission is to stop Kara.

Still adjusting to his upgrade, Logan comes to terms with the fact that he can’t visit his wife and daughter for their own safety and focuses on tracking Kara down. An outbreak of an unknown disease in a small Montana town indicates that she has already begun dispersing the upgrade. There Logan gathers evidence that the upgrade kills a significant portion of its recipients through degenerative brain diseases.

At last, Logan tracks Kara down at a home in Colorado, at one time a hideout of his mother’s. Once again, there is a confrontation that ends with an attempt on Logan’s life and his escape. Kara has developed even more advanced cognitive and physical capabilities, indicating that she has undergone a second upgrade. Initially reluctant to follow her lead, once Logan sees that his wife has moved on in the wake of her husband’s “death,” Logan administers the second upgrade to himself.

Enlisting the help of his former boss and his GPA partner without being sure of where their loyalties lie, Logan determines that Kara will release the upgrade from her headquarters in Lower Manhattan. After being betrayed by his partner, Logan makes it to New York in time to breach Kara’s building, confront her, and kill her.

As the novel closes, Logan decides to revisit his family at his daughter’s graduation. He recognizes that they have moved on and resists his daughter’s request to rejoin them, explaining that his presence would endanger them. He gives them a collection of letters he wrote while on the run, which detail his ordeal and reveal that he has discovered an upgrade that will potentially provide humanity with the compassion needed to prevent extinction.