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Upgrade Soul by Ezra Claytan Daniels

Upgrade Soul

by Ezra Claytan Daniels

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To be honest, I'm not sure exactly how I feel about Ezra Claytan Daniels' Upgrade Soul; on the one hand it's a brilliant, challenging, and dark cautionary tale about the dangers of immorality in science, and on the other it's a slow and sometimes confusing study of individuality and what makes a person a person, the body, soul, or mind. I think some could categorize this as a science fiction story, while others could see it as horror; it does meet somewhere in the middle of these genres.

For their 45th anniversary, the Fred and Molly Nonnar decide to finance and undergo an experimental procedure that in theory will rejuvenate their cells and make them younger, stronger, smarter, and better in every way so that they can live an even longer and more fulfilled life than the one they have now. However, the scientists behind the procedure are not completely upfront about what the procedure will actually do, and instead of rejuvenating their own bodies, the Nonnars discover that they were to be cloned into a new body, with their memories and life experiences uploaded into these new bodies. However, something goes horribly wrong, and the clones come out of the procedure wildly disfigured, but better than their original bodies in every other way, while the Nonnars are left weaker and more feeble than before. What comes of this is back and forth tension about which pair is more "qualified" to live, the originals who are left lesser than they were before, or the clones, who are now superior, but ultimately incapable of living a "normal" life due to their disfigurations. There are several side plots concerning the actually motivation of the scientist heading up the program, a love story or two, and the families thoughts on what has happened to the Nonnars, but at the end of the day, this book is ultimately their story. I think it is a challenging book and pushes you to think about what makes you an individual, but it just didn't resonate with me as much as I would have liked. The story was sometimes too slow, the art sometimes too sparse, the timeline sometimes too confusing. Still, I'm glad that I read it. This book will have its audience and I think that it's going to start conversations about what it implies.

I received an eARC of this title from NetGalley in exchange for a free and honest review. ( )
  tapestry100 | Sep 5, 2018 |
Welcome to the anti-Clone Club.

(Full disclosure: I received a free e-ARC for review through NetGalley.)

Despite being an interracial couple who married in the '70s, Molly and Hank Nonnar have built a pretty charmed life together. Dr. Manuela Nonnar is a scientist (geneticist?) at the top of her field, while Hank continues the legacy left him by his father, a franchise based on a popular black superhero named Slane. Though they have no children of their own, the couple acts as surrogate parents to their niece Del, who likes play researcher in Molly's backyard. (Yay girls in STEM!) Then a fateful meeting between Hank and Dr. Victoria Teel upends their world and calls everything they thought they knew into question.

For their 40th anniversary,* the couple decides to make a substantial investment in a company called Via; in exchange, they'll be the first to undergo Via's experimental "genetic purification" procedure. It promises to make them stronger, smarter, faster, healthier, and more long-lived than any human before them. And it does, in a way.

Molly and Hank wake up seven months later in bodies that have seemingly aged ten years. Instead of being changed, they have been cloned. And their clones are half-formed "monsters": aborted (er, "canceled") during the 10th week of development, Manuela and Henry (as their counterparts are christened) resemble baked potatoes with cured ham for limbs (in technical terms). But they are "better" than the source material in every other way, blessed with superhuman strength and intellectual prowess that surpasses that of their creators.

Yet there's only room in the world for one Molly and Hank. Will it be the "source material" that Dr. Kallose intended to destroy upon the successful completion of the project, or the "monsters" that are a sentient success, yet are too aesthetically displeasing to ever present in public?


Upgrade Soul might just be one of the most bizarre, horrifying, and thought-provoking books I've ever read, graphic novel or otherwise. It raises a myriad of deliciously thorny questions: What makes you you? Is a person more than the sum of their parts? How much are we shaped by our environments? Our bodies? What is normality, and who gets to define it?

Plus it delights in a wicked sense of humor while doing so, particularly in the forms of Molly and Hank 2.0.



The plot's pretty compelling, and the artwork, appropriately crude and weird - but in an oddly moving way. There were a few holes, though; for example, it was never entirely clear to me what Molly and Hank expected of the procedure (e.g., did they know that their "original" bodies were destined for the incinerator?). Also: an already creepy story gets even freakier with the additional of an incest subplot, which is kind of left dangling, much to this reader's dismay. (You can't just drop a bomb like that and walk away, mkay.) And just why did Manuela do what she did?

Still, Upgrade Soul is one of the better graphic novels I've read in recent memory: a legit page-turner that both entertains and challenges. If you dig sci-fi, you owe to yourself to add it to your TBR list.

* It's right there on page 47 of my ARC, no matter what the synopsis says.

http://www.easyvegan.info/2018/10/08/upgrade-soul-by-ezra-claytan-daniels/ ( )
  smiteme | Aug 26, 2018 |
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