Monday, 28 January 2013

Nexus - Ramez Naam

Nexus is the debut novel by mega techie Ramez Naam. It's a very impressive résumé, with two stints at Microsoft, and working with nano technology for another company, but Ramez Naam was also awarded the 2005 HG Wells Award for Contributions to Transhumanism. I don't think you will be surprised when I tell you Nexus is a SF thriller. Many thanks to Angry Robot Books for providing me with a review copy of Nexus.

Nexus is a drug based on nano technology which in its most common form allows a sort of mind sharing between individuals who are close together. A team of young scientists cracks the Nexus communications protocol which lets them run their own software in Nexus, effectively creating a operating system to run software in the human brain.

Now what would a young man, who is perhaps a tad nervous around girls, do after discovering this revolutionary technology? Why not run a simulation of Peter North inside your head to help you score with a hot lady? This is exactly what Kaden Lane, one of the scientists, decided to do. A grown man, like me, would have run some more tests first to iron out the worst bugs, but we would have missed out on some gold comedy writing.

This is just one example of what Nexus is capable of. Kaden Lane and his fellow nerds are perhaps most fascinated by the ability to share their minds with each other, in effect creating a hive mind. Ramez Naam makes these sessions fascinating, to say the least, creating an experience which is both spaced out and emotional.

Kaden Lane and his group only see the benefits of Nexus whereas other powers see the potential for abuse, and the U.S. government already suspects the Chinese are using a similar technology for mind control. The young hackers are caught between some powerful players, who are all prepared to make any sacrifice to reach their goal. Kaden Lane is black mailed by the U.S. government to spy for them, and he is being carefully watched by a homeland security agent, Samantha Cataranes. She is equipped with the latest body enhancements, and while she might look like a slim, athletic woman, Samantha could easily punch through a wall and survive gunshot wounds. I don't think Neal Asher or Richard Morgan would be disappointed by agent Cataranes.

It's an interesting world Ramez Naam shows us. It might be early days for enhancing the human body, but it is mature enough for a black market, and it is already widely used by the military and the underworld. Nexus is arguing both for and against technologies which could make us less human. The people involved are all doing what they think is best, there is no evil present, just different points of view, and possibly too much dedication to a cause.

Nexus is a terrific read, covering a highly interesting topic in a entertaining way. It's a book brimming with action and gun fights, which also has a lot of technical content made accessible by Ramez Naam's skilful penmanship. Don't miss the chapter after the novel where the author explains the real world technologies which inspired Nexus.

Nexus weighs in at 448 pages, and is published by Angry Robot Books.

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