Nexus – Ramez Naan (2013)
Sam is a young female agent of the Homeland Security Emerging Risks Directorate, a somewhat fanatical branch of US enforcement which has been set up to combat the perceived threat of illegal human enhancements. Sam is on the trail of a brilliant student, Kaden Lane, who has modified what used to be Nexus 3 into Nexus 5, a nanotechnological substance which can allow the connection of minds with other users.
Sam, ironically, has been not only physically enhanced by her department but has had a whole other personality complete with memories overlaid over her own. Having successfully made contact with Lane she gets herself invited to a Nexus 5 party. Sam is overwhelmed by the beautiful communion of minds that her cover personality begins to deteriorate. The ERD raid the party and Lane is taken away.
There’s a bit of a cliché here. Hard-arse authoritarians tell the prisoner (Lane) that all his friends can stay in jail and that he himself will get a hefty sentence unless he does a job for the hard-arse authoritarians.
Sam and Lane are sent to a conference in Thailand where Lane attracts the attention of several parties, one of them being a woman the ERD are interested in; a Chinese scientist rumoured to be experimenting with Nexus and other transhumanist technologies.
I would describe this as a Good Book. It zips along fairly swiftly, is a captivating read and builds to an exciting and satisfactory denouement. In many ways it is reinventing the concept of Homo Superior by enhancing Humanity with a nanotechnological software that bonds with its host and becomes permanent part of the body.
Naam goes further by suggesting that Nexus 5 can be passed on in some case to children who grow up able to share the thoughts of other Nexus users.
Being a Good Book though is no guarantee that it’s a good novel. This achieved the shortlist of the 2014 Arthur C Clarke award which surprises me since it does have its flaws. Naam seems to be putting forward an argument in favour of transhumanism by looking at the positive benefits, the negative effects, the political consequences in personal and wider social terms and the very real dangers. All well and good. What slightly undermines this is the Marvel comic characterisation.
The people of the ERD are painted as obsessive, irrational and illogical. Becker, in charge of the mission, is a sociopathic control freak whose motivation seems based on a fear of his teenage daughters being given some form of Nexus. There does need to be some light and shade here since the impression one gets is that the author is deeply distrustful of the American government and his doing his utmost to paint them in a bad light. A little subtlety would have improved this aspect no end.
Kaden Lane, the central character, makes the stupidest decisions in the world, usually without asking anyone’s advice.
Sam’s journey within the novel sees her gradually turning away from her ERD masters toward lane and his Nexus 5 transhumanism. Quite unnecessarily we learn her backstory. She was brought up in a Waco-style commune that devolved into an insular world of sexual abuse and violence. Naam could have made more of the comparisons between Sam’s repressed childhood memories and the overlaid personalities and memories she adopts for missions.
Rather like Becker’s daughter obsession, Naam has taken one element of a character’s life as the one defining factor in their behaviour. It’s a tad too formulaic and tends to detract from the ongoing storyline.
Naam comes into his own when the narrative shifts to Thailand. There appears to be a free market for wetware and enhancements and it is not long before lane finds himself to be a person of interest for at least three separate groups, each of whom wants to use Nexus 5 for their own purposes.
The denouement is, as I have said, exciting and dare I say it, a little transcendent, paving the way for the inevitable sequels.
It is undoubtedly a Good Book. I thoroughly enjoyed it and look forward to reading more. Whether or not it should have been in the Clarke Award shortlist is another matter. I would have expected a little more depth.