The writer reveals inspiration behind tale of gene-modification and how he would "upgrade" himself.

Blake Crouch's just-published novel Upgrade is set in a near-future where scientific advances in gene modification techniques allow people to modify their bodies and brains but the government has banned everyone from doing so.

Blake Crouch
'Upgrade' author Blake Crouch
| Credit: Matthew Staver

"The protagonist is a guy named Logan Ramsey," says Crouch, whose previous books include 2016's Dark Matter, and 2019's Recursion. "Twenty-some years prior to the events of the book, his mom, Miriam, who was a world-renowned geneticist, was in China with this wild gene-modifying tool she created, trying to edit this rice blight out of a crop. Things went awry. Instead of fixing this one thing, she ends up plunging us into what came to be known as the Great Starvation. Two hundred million people died. The Gene Protection Act came in in the wake of the Great Starvation and essentially ended all gene-editing research, because people said, we can't ever have this happen again. We come into this world where her son Logan is trying to make amends, and he works for the Gene Protection Agency, which was created as a reaction to what his mom did, to stamp out illegal gene editing. As the book opens, Logan is exposed to something in a lab he's raiding, wakes up in a hospital, and suspects that he's been exposed to some sort of a gene-editing package that is about to change his body and his mind spectacularly."

Crouch initially planned on writing Upgrade several years ago but was put off by the vast amount of research the book required.

"After I finished Dark Matter, I really wanted to write a book that tackled gene-editing," he says. "I started to dig in to the research, and it was so daunting I decided not to do it. After Recursion, I thought, we're right on the precipice of being able to wield gene-modifying tools that can change our DNA almost like magic and I have to write about this. It just seemed like I had to buckle down, do the research, and find my way into the story."

So which part of Crouch's mind or body would the author upgrade?

"Hmm, I think I would reduce my need for sleep," he says with a laugh.

And what would he do with those extra hours of consciousness?

"I would write books faster, I would spend more time with my kids, I would travel more," he says. "I would do all the things that my requirement for seven hours of sleep a night stops me from doing."

Cover of 'Upgrade' by Blake Crouch
| Credit: Ballantine Books

Crouch certainly has plenty on his plate. The writer is best known for his Wayward Pines trilogy of novels, which were turned into a two-season Fox show on which Crouch worked as a producer. He is now the showrunner of a TV adaptation of Dark Matter about a physicist who is kidnapped by a version of himself from another dimension.

"We're filming a nine-episode series, it will be for Apple, it will film in Chicago," says the author. "Joel Edgerton is starring as Jason Dessen, the protagonist, and we're in prep right now."

Crouch reveals that he has also started work on another novel.

"I am making fast and furious notes on my next book," he says. "I always start the process of writing a book with journaling. I started it right before Christmas last year, and have been working away on it, and trying to get my head around the story, and find my way in. I'm really excited about it and it's definitely going to be less research than Upgrade, which makes me very happy. I feel like I've earned that!"

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