I received this book for free from the Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.The Uploaded by Ferrett Steinmetz
Published by Angry Robot on September 5 2017
Genres: Young adult, Science fiction
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The nitty-gritty: A fast-paced, frantic glimpse into the future that left me more puzzled than exhilarated, The Uploaded is one wild ride.
Little Venice’s streets were hip-deep in spillover from the Atlantic Ocean, a thick muck choked with the Bubbler’s stink and liquefied corpses and rotting seaweed–a dead town that swallowed bodies and vomited out glutinous sickness. You could see dead men’s bones fused to old shop windows, all engulfed in creeping mutant coral like yellowed sharks’ teeth.
I had read so many rave reviews of Steinmetz’s ‘Mancer series, that I’ll admit I was expecting to be blown away by The Uploaded just for that reason. Unfortunately, my expectations were a little too high, and I ended up with a vague feeling of disappointment after finishing it. What could have been a very cool futuristic setting was muddied by way too much “tech speak” and a complicated set of world-building rules. Now, granted, you need to take my opinions with a grain of salt, because a whole bunch of readers LOVED this book, which is evident by its high Goodreads rating and gushy reviews. But for me, I found myself overwhelmed by the manic characters, non-stop action and confusing set-up.
Meet Amichai Damrosch. Six months ago, his parents died and now their minds have been uploaded to the servers of the Upterlife, a virtual playground where the dead spend their days engrossed in high-tech virtual reality games and for fun, spy on the living. Amichai’s sister Izzy has fallen prey to the plague known as the Bubbler and now resides in an institution, trying to recover enough to be placed in a menial labor job. Both Amichai and Izzy want nothing more than to die and join their parents in the Upterlife, where life is easy. Here on earth? Not so much, as the Bubbler has decimated the planet and left chaos in its wake. Amichai has always believed in the system, knowing that a long life of hard labor will eventually earn him a spot in Heaven. And it’s the dead who have the final say as to who gets in and who gets voided, so most people follow the rules.
But with the help of his friends, Amichai uncovers a plot by none other than the creator of the Upterlife, Walter Wickliffe, a plot that will ultimately destroy what little life the living have. Amichai devises a daring plan to stop Wickliffe and give the living back their dignity. But his plan is risky at best, and it’s going to take a lot of ingenuity–and one pony–to pull it off.
If you are one of those readers who enjoys high-tech futuristic science fiction, with an emphasis on “tech,” and you also enjoy YA-aged characters and lots of humor, then you’ll most likely have a blast with The Uploaded. Steinmetz isn’t afraid to throw his readers into the deep end of the pool without water wings, so you need to be quick to keep up with his unique and crazy ideas. I’ll admit it took me a while to grasp all the intricacies of this world, and even then I’m not sure I understood everything.
But I have to give this story props for having some very cool ideas. Steinmetz’s set-up is nothing short of brilliant: a future where death isn’t necessarily the end, and often times is way better than being alive, at least that’s how the living perceive it. Most living people are clambering to die and be “uploaded,” but there are rules. For example, in order for a person to eventually join the Upterlife, regular brain scans must be taken, a process called “Shriving.” During a Shrive, the dead sift through a person’s memories and determine a ranking, and depending on how you Shrive, you could come up “Liminal,” which gives you the best chance of making it to the Upterlife, or one of the four ranks below that. It seems to be a way of keeping the living population in check, and under the thumb of the dead. I also loved the idea that the dead can see through any camera and spy on the living, and so of course there are broken cameras scattered throughout the city where the living can hide their activities from the dead.
Steinmetz throws in a character named Evangeline who is a NeoChristian, someone who doesn’t believe in the Upterlife but instead worships the “Big Skybeard.” (lol!) She’s also “the most beautiful girl” Amichai has ever seen. The problem I had with Evangeline, and later with a girl named Peaches, is that Amichai falls for both girls and honestly can’t decide which one he likes more. I didn’t really like either girl, personally, and their rivalry over Amichai felt like just another YA love triangle. I also found a lot of the action and dialog silly and juvenile, which is one reason the book just didn’t hold my attention. (For teen readers, however, this won’t be a problem.)
And like your typical YA set-up, most of the adults in the story are evil. Even Amichai’s dead parents would rather immerse themselves in a video game than chat with their children, and they don’t seem concerned at all about poor Izzy’s illness. (The dead can visit the living through TV and computer screens.) The only adult character I liked was a woman named Mama Alex who leads a resistance group and holds “Blackout Parties” in areas of the city where the cameras aren’t working and kids can dance without worrying about being watched. She was way more of a mother figure to Amichai than his own, flighty mother.
I think my favorite character in the whole story was a pony named Therapy, who Amichai buys and sneaks into the hospital in order to cheer up Izzy. As you can imagine, that doesn’t go too well, but I was thrilled when Therapy makes a reappearance later in the story. And why are people riding ponies instead of driving around in cars, you might ask? It’s just another one of the many quirks of this crazy world.
It took me a long time to read The Uploaded, mostly because I found other things I’d rather be doing. Steinmetz is undoubtedly one of the more creative authors I’ve run across, but unfortunately this book just wasn’t for me.
Big thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy.