Archive for Nexus

Book Review: Crux (Nexus #2), by Ramez Naam

Posted in Angry Robot Army, Arts & Entertainment, Book Reviews, Books, Fiction, Science Fiction with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 1, 2013 by Jessica Nelson

Crux-144dpiTitle: Crux (Nexus #2)

Author: Ramez Naam

Publisher: Angry Robot, August 27, 2013

Length: 560 pages

Price: $14.99 US/ $16.99 CA

ISBN: 978-0-85766-297-2

The year is 2040. It’s been three months since the nanodrug Nexus 5 became open source, and the world has become a different place. Nexus has the power to link minds, increase learning ability, and to bring people together. It has the potential to help humankind achieve great things. It also has the potential for abuse, if in the hands of a select few. Under pressure from the governments of the United States and China, among others, Kaden Lane saw few other choices but to release the source code to the world at large, putting his faith in the basic goodness of most people.

“He’d seen incredible science done, published carefully on anonymous message boards. With Nexus 5 they were getting glimpses of paths to reversing Alzheimer’s and senile dementia, making incredible progress in connecting autistic children to neurotypical adults. They were suddenly moving forward again in deciphering memory and attention, in seeing ways to boost intelligence. This was a tool that would change everything about the study of the mind …”

The uses of Nexus are myriad, from joining the minds of musicians and making the orchestra one living thing to being used to coerce others for personal gain. To help avoid abuses and stop coercion, Kade built back doors into the Nexus source code before releasing it. Now, the governments of the United States and China want those codes, and they’ll stop at nothing to get them.

As Kade struggles to keep order and stop abuses, a new terror cell has cropped up, calling itself the Posthuman Liberation Front. The more the US government rallies against human enhancements, the harder the PLF strikes back. The harder the PLF strikes, the more public opinion sways against its goals and toward the control the government publicly wishes to exercise. One step too far, and the war against trans- and posthumans is on.

Crux is the second book in Ramez Naam‘s Nexus series. Nonfiction works by Naam include More Than Human: Embracing the Promise of Biological Enhancement and The Infinite Resource: The Power of Ideas on a Finite Planet. He has worked with Microsoft and been involved in nanotechnology research, and his work has won him the HG Wells Award for Contributions to Transhumanism, given by the World Transhumanist Association.

In this brutal, honest sequel to Nexus, Naam explores humankind’s ability to always justify our actions and motivations, as well as how we do or do not learn to exercise restraint and self-control when given immense power – both ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’ alike. He delivers smart, concise social and scientific commentary through the use of well-developed, complex characters, full of loves and hurts, scars and hopes, realistic motivations, and pasts that explain them all.

Readers will gain a complete understanding of every character, allowing them to form their own opinions after exploring the various points of view on transhumanist technology, all while being pulled through a well-formed story sure to entertain readers of science fiction, or anyone with an interest in future technologies. Stories of hope and fear, of power and helplessness, of inner demons at war with the better angels of our nature intertwine from cover to cover, making for a compelling read that’s hard to put down.

Naam’s writing is always strong, fluid and sure. Realistic, wholly believable plot twists follow one after another, puzzle pieces falling neatly into place, building suspense and mystery before satisfying conclusions. With gripping, heart-pounding action scenes and muscle-binding tension normally reserved for horror stories, Crux is a book you don’t want to miss (though I should note, it may not stand alone well. Readers will be well-served by reading Nexus first.)

Book Review: Nexus, by Ramez Naam

Posted in Angry Robot Army, Arts & Entertainment, Book Reviews, Books, Fiction, Science Fiction with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 16, 2013 by Jessica Nelson

Nexus CoverTitle: Nexus

Author: Ramez Naam

Publisher: Angry Robot, December 2012

Length: 464 pages

Price: $14.99 US/ $16.99 CA

ISBN: 978-0-85766-294-1


In the year 2040, governments are either embracing the new possibilities brought by nanotechnology or waging war against it. Often, waging war against a thing means using the very thing you’re waging war against, keeping it for oneself while trying to keep it out of the hands of the general populace.

Kaden Lane is a doctorate student at the University of California, San Francisco. He and his friends are up-and-coming new voices in the field of neuroscience. But when Kade and his friends are caught using and improving the banned nano-drug Nexus in their research, they’re pulled into a war they never intended to fight.

As various governments fight to keep the general populace and other governments from using new technologies to evolve into Transhuman and Posthuman beings, powerful new laws and international agreements are written. Human rights are redefined,  liberties taken away.

Ramez Naam is an expert in the technological field. He has been involved in the production of some of the most widely used software in the world, as well as nanotechnology research. Naam is an advocate for human biological enhancements, and was even awarded the HG Wells Award for Contributions to Transhumanism by the World Transhumanist Association. His previously published nonfiction work, More Than Human: Embracing the Promise of Biological Enhancement, supports his advocacy of these enhancements.

Given Naam’s background, it should come as no surprise that Nexus is a brilliant story, filled with smart, well-informed opinions from both sides of the debate on the ethics of biological enhancements; and of course, the concerns of those who fear unknown quantities simply because the future is unknown are covered, as well. Naam’s experience with emerging technologies lends realism to the scientific work carried out and studied in Nexus, ensuring that all of it is believable, and making a strong bond between the reader and those being vilified by people in power.

Naam’s writing is strong, clear and concise, with perfect ebb and flow in pacing. Readers are allowed to read at their leisure throughout the bulk of the story, but are pulled along at breakneck pace during action scenes filled with excellent tension and potential dangers ready to explode at any minute. Characters are wholly believable, with complete personalities and understandable back-stories that enable readers to relate to each and every one of them, in turn, but always coming back around to root for the protagonists in the end. Throughout Nexus, new twists and turns are introduced with new characters, each with their own motivations, causing readers to invest heavily in getting to know each of them and explore their own thoughts on each character’s motivations before deciding whether they are in agreement or disagreement with their views. This is no easy feat for a writer, but Naam makes it look like nothing in the world could be more natural.

At the heart of Nexus is a deep exploration of the course we as a society are currently on and where it is bringing us. In Nexus, one need only be suspected of being in breach of the Emerging Technological Threats Act to be scooped up by Homeland Defense’s Emerging Risks Directorate, or the ERD. These suspects have no right to a lawyer, no right to a trial by jury. They can be detained indefinitely, subject to the whims of a few select people; they just simply disappear one day, the story of their arrest appearing in the news as a government victory over potential terroristic threats to national security. Sound familiar? It should. These are the very provisions in the recent US National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, that caused such an uproar with activists online and was sadly dismissed as inconsequential by most members of the general public.

In so much of the scientific progress we make, the potential for abuse exists. With each new discovery, we must ask ourselves anew, “What price are we willing to pay to make this leap? Is this my decision to make for all of humankind?” And this is the crux, the main theme of Nexus. With technology moving and evolving so quickly that we, as a society, cannot keep up, science becomes as dangerous as it is beneficial. But which outweighs the other? Who gets to decide these things and enforce them? All-powerful government agencies who can strip basic rights away from human beings on a whim? The folly of that is as ludicrous as there being no oversight at all. As with all things, there must be balance. Too bad that’s something humankind has never been too good at …

Parts of this story are truly terrifying, which is really saying something, as it isn’t a dystopian future Naam paints, but the future reason and logic tell us to expect based on our current course; there is no reason to believe this isn’t what our future holds. Only if a willingness to explore and fully understand new things trumps fear can we ever hope to change this. One of the most moving and powerful scenes in the book sums it up nicely. In part:

“Power is best when it’s distributed most broadly. That’s what Democracy means. That’s what freedom means. The right to determine your individual destiny belongs in your hands, and no one else’s.”

Nexus is a story everyone should read. As a cautionary tale, it will likely be considered in league with Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World in the years to come. The question is, will we learn from this one?


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