Blake Crouch on the new book ‘Upgrade’ and the future of science fiction

mein 2019, Blake Crouch Posted recursion, a sci-fi thriller about a neurological disease that inflicts memories on people of lives that are not their own. Before that, he introduced readers to a physics professor who gets kidnapped and then catapulted into alternate universes in his 2016 novel. Dark matter. Both books bring to life the kind of technology that, in imaginary worlds, would have the ability to change humanity. So when Crouch set out to write about the very real CRISPR genetic modification technologyI knew it would be a different perspective. “Unlike quantum mechanics, since I don’t think anyone believes that we are on the verge of opening up the multiverse and going into other worlds, with gene editing we are there,” says the author. “We’re just a few steps away from being able to truly rewrite what it means to be human.”

Crouch places that idea at the heart of his new book. Gets betteravailable july 12, which follows the devastating consequences of a genome editing scheme gone wrong. In Gets betterLogan Ramsey is the adult son of a maligned scientist whose CRISPR-like technology caused the death of millions of people. When Logan’s own genome is hacked, he becomes an “enhanced” version of himself: he can concentrate better, read faster, and operate with much less sleep. But upgrading him comes at a cost, and he’s determined to find out who’s behind what’s happening to him.

As Crouch explores Logan’s changing psyche, he asks big questions about the future of gene editing and what it could mean for society. The author spoke with TIME about why he’s “terrified” by the book he’s about to publish, why he no longer considers himself a sci-fi author, and how he finds hope when the future looks increasingly bleak.

WEATHER: You did a lot of research on gene editing to Gets better. Was there anything you learned that stood out?

Blake Crouch: The most important thing I got is the fear that scientists have about this research and this technology. I didn’t realize how nervous everyone was about the optimistic potential of this technology, but also about the pitfalls that lie ahead.

How much liberty did you take with science?

Not as much as I thought I’d have to take, which terrifies me. This book is going to be sold as science fiction, as a futuristic thriller. But I really don’t think it is. We are already living in the future, I don’t think science fiction exists anymore. All the threats and promises in this book are within our grasp. Jennifer Doudna, one of the co-creators of CRISPR, talks about having this nightmare that Hitler finds out. That always stuck with me: the person who discovered this gene modification therapy stays up at night, afraid of what might happen.

read more: How Jennifer Doudna’s life has changed since discovering CRISPR 10 years ago

Expect. When did you start to believe that science fiction no longer exists?

With this book. Of [my 2012-2014 trilogy] rebel pinesI have considered myself someone who writes science fiction. I was writing about what the future might hold. Now, we have phones in hand that can order groceries, cars, and future spouses. We are living in the future. I am not a writer who wants to say that science and technology are bad. No, it’s amazing! Technology is the reason we still have civilization. But man, this is the most powerful tool we’ve ever invented. We have to be careful with that.


If it’s not science fiction, what is it? Gets better?

The book is slightly set in the future, because I wanted to speed up where some of the climate change and more technology in the bush was headed, but it’s a mirror of where we could be five minutes from now. I have three children. I’m insecure. Everyone seems to feel that way. Are we going to be here predominantly as a species in 100 years, 75 years? It is a strange thing for a fully conscious species to contemplate its demise. The last dodo bird did not know that it was the last dodo bird.

read more: 27 New Books You Must Read This Summer

After upgrading, Logan realizes that he can essentially turn off his emotions. He says, “I could put my feelings inside this cage, I could close the door.” Have you ever wished for that kind of ability?

I carry my heart in my hand. That’s how I take advantage of the character. One of the things that made me want to be a science fiction writer, before we dropped the idea that I’m a science fiction writer, is that I love the imagination of everything. What I missed were characters I cared about. I always felt like a writer came up with a really cool idea, but he forgot that the only thing that everyone cares about at the end of the day is the character journeys. We just want to read about other people going through life. I want to take that to a high concept, in quotes, science fiction.

you see the show Breaking off?

Oh my gosh, I love that show. It’s the first thing I’ve seen in a decade that I’m madly jealous that I didn’t come up with that idea. It’s amazing.

It also raises the question of whether it is possible to literally turn off a part of oneself in order to do something. That idea really resonated with a lot of fans of the show, why do you think that’s the case?

All we see all the time is the bad news. What Breaking off I finally took advantage and, maybe what I was looking for but didn’t realize, is that this is a very difficult time to be alive. We’re faced with headlines every day, and I don’t know how a sane, compassionate, empathetic person couldn’t wish, to some degree, that they could forget all of that and just do their job. I wrote Gets better during the time of COVID and it was the hardest book I have ever written, not only because of the subject, but because no one knew how bad this pandemic was going to be. we were looking Contagion? Would everything ever go back to normal?

read more: Breaking off Is the weird show ‘Galaxy-Brain’ smart enough to blow your mind?

There is a pandemic type event in the book. Are you purposely nodding to COVID?

I started it in September 2019. My first attempt was in a completely different way: I had imagined doing almost a Jurassic Park thing, more on how gene editing could affect new life forms. Then COVID came along, and I realized this: think about what we’re going through right now. Why wouldn’t I be writing about this technology in front of humanity? I had written almost an entire novel, but ended up throwing that out and starting over.

With the world being as scary as it is, what gives you hope?

There’s a moment in the book where Logan says something like, you can’t sacrifice humanity to save humanity, because if you do, you’re giving up the whole game. I fell into it as a confidence drop. It’s not necessarily my first instinct, but that’s all we have right now: trust and compassion. Trust that we have come this far. Ultimately, we are a cooperative species. We have to trust that we will get through this dark time together.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

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write to Annabel Gutterman at annabel.gutterman@time.com.

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