M a r k   E v e r g l a d e

Upload - A Review of Mark McClelland's Book

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Upload is the story of a cautious man, Raymond Quan, who takes the idea of running away from his problems to an extreme as he explores the consequences of creating realistic virtual models of human consciousness, stemming from his loneliness at first and his societal conflicts as the story progresses. Raymond was orphaned by apathy as a child, not because his parents were dead, but because they just didn’t care about him. He was a child of great restraint, who had difficulty communicating with others which carries throughout his life. Providing the back story early on was risky, but it paid off, as Mark was able to show Raymond’s character development, and the first chapter still has enough conflict to drive it, including a critical moment that will haunt him years later. Even when Raymond becomes a man, you still get the idea that the novel is, in ways, a coming of age story, as Raymond’s social development is underdeveloped.  

After being bullied by groups of kids as a child, it makes sense when Raymond prefers one-on-one interaction as an adult,
Suma entered the room. Raymond‘s instinct was to leave, to extricate himself from a group social situation where he might be the focus of attention.

As a man, he meets Anya, a modern woman he falls in love with, but it’s still hard for him to communicate outside the perimeter of a safe topic list he maintains,

He was so used to concealing the details of his life that anything even vaguely personal had to make it through miles of mental red tape before
being approved for vocalization.

Even an emotionally-laden confession later on is provided as a mere recording. But this restraint is also rendered as self-discipline,

Self-control yields discipline, and the disciplined accumulation of power leads to freedom…

With admin privileges, one could make the simulated people do whatever one wanted.  And Raymond had.  But not anymore, and never Andrea. He preferred to tempt himself, to flirt with self-indulgence but stop just short.  It was an exercise in discipline, part of the mastery of self that he felt would make him superior.

That feeling of superiority (though truly based on an inferiority complex) is the same feeling he got while being voyeuristic, which also led to him being opportunistic during a critical mistake made during his youth which only increased his caution later on. Opportunities aren’t to be sought for Raymond as they carried too much weight of responsibility, and too much threat. Even Anya, the beautiful woman he loves, has to beg him to go out with her. Raymond is a secretive, reclusive, man owing to his caution,

(His VR world) was his private sanctuary, never subjected to any criticism other than his own, an entire planet never seen by another human…

There was a time when he would have balked at the thought of travelling twenty minutes to see someone whom he could reach almost instantly in virtual space.

The level of characterization is beyond what would be typical for science fiction, and is appreciated, as is the level of romance, which is full of suspense. But the romance isn’t just a sub-plot, it guides the decisions that Raymond makes and adds a layer of conflict, and at times, lamentation to them. Soon, the sci-fi elements manifest,

Every cell in the nervous system was mapped into a highly specialized computer wherein the self-configuring hardware mimicked the behavior of the brain and all nervous pathways into and out of it.  This computer then interfaced with a simulation running on another computer…

The book then centers around the idea of uploading oneself to a sort of cyberspace,

You watch a dog go into the scanner, and the next thing you know you‘re playing fetch and scruffing her neck in a vchamber.  Why couldn‘t that be you, you wonder.  All your bullshit physical problems gone.  Knee problems, colds, obesity, migraines, cancer, whatever, all gone.  Immortality—what more could you ask for?

As the story picks up it toys with the philosophical consequences of this new reality,

“Are you not a god, like the Apollo who created me?”
He looked her in the eye. He was moved by how much and how little she seemed to understand. “No, I‘m not a god…Do you know who is god right now?”
“Do you mean my Apollo?”
“―I mean, can you ask who is god and find out? Do you have administrative query rights?”

The virtual usually replicates reality at the expense of complexity, but in the book, this simpler world becomes more complex in ways, with some sections reminding me of the levels of depth in the movie Inception,

“I don‘t get it… Why wouldn't I have instantiated my second self in a starter world?  Why would I not have given myself god powers, unless it was some sort of game?” He looked up to the sky again and gave it the finger. “If this is a game, I don‘t like it.”

reads well and is a great story that begins deceptively simple and ends in layers of complexity. Part of its uniqueness is the way that it evolves from a tale of a young boy, to a young man’s coming of age story blended with romantic elements, to an outright science fiction foray. This is a book that will thus appeal to people who read various genres with a balance of both romance and technology. It is a story of what it means for humans to be eusocial animals, and the extent to which that can be manipulated, and simulated. Rife with ethical conflict, it is a testimony to how the decisions we make early in life can cause us to do desperate things years later. Check it out on Amazon!