Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Book Review: Nexus by Ramez Naam

Pros: lots of action, interesting characters, thought provoking, accessible science

Cons: some of the characters were underused, not as much emotional connection with characters as I would have liked

Kaden Lane and a small group of other brilliant college students come up with a way to add programmable code to Nexus 3, a drug that allows people to communicated telepathically.  Their still incomplete code, which has the potential to transform humans into transhumans, puts them and their upgraded Nexus 5 on the hit list of the Emerging Risks Directorate, a subsection of Homeland Security, taxed with maintaining laws restricting research into certain areas of science.  Kaden believes in the best of humanity, and knows that Nexus 5 could do great things for people.  ERD officer Samantha Cataranes has seen the worst that mind altering drugs can do, and believes - along with her organization - that Nexus 5 will be horribly abused.

This is a novel that examines the morality of augmenting humans to help them become more than human and how the tools of such augmentation can be used to benefit and harm people.  Both Kaden and Sam start the book firmly entrenched in their positions, but the events of the story make them both question what they believe.  This questioning is thought provoking for the reader, for whom the various pros and cons aren’t immediately obvious, but also allow the characters the chance to grow as individuals.

There’s a fair amount of action, culminating in numerous showdowns at the end of the book.  

I loved that Naam has an ‘extras’ section at the end of the book where he explains the science that he extrapolated from to come up with Nexus and the other scientific advances in the book.  It’s amazing the things we’re currently capable of, and both inspiring and terrifying to see what might come next.  The science contained in the book is clearly and concisely explained.  There are no long expository passages weighing the book down.  It starts fast paced and continues so throughout.

I had two complaints about the book.  The first was that one of the characters was underused, in that I expected interesting things to happen with that person’s storyline but nothing really came of it.  The second is that though you really get into Sam and Kaden’s heads, you don’t feel a close connection to them, or the other people who they interact with in the book.  When the bodies started piling up I didn’t really care about anyone that was dying.  I wasn’t too afraid for Sam and Kaden, mainly due to Sam’s augmentations, but again, I wasn’t as invested in them as I wanted to be. 

This isn’t a subgenre of SFF that I normally read, so I was afraid I’d find the science over my head.  Naam does a great job of making the science accessible and the action fast and furious.  There’s enough down time to appreciate the difficult position Kaden is in while wondering how (and if) he’ll escape it.  It’s a book that makes you think about science and technology and where we’re headed as well as what role governments should play - if any - with regards to regulating the advancements to come.  In other words, it’s a great hard sf novel.

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