No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

2014/11: Nexus -- Ramez Naam

Evolution and human cleverness were cast against filter daemon cleverness. Bit by bit, crowdsourced evolution pulled ahead.
NSA agents were slow to grasp the enormity of the new outbreak. When they did, they pulled the plug on all peer-sharing traffic within the United States, [loc.5486]

I read this because it's on the 2014 shortlist for the Arthur C. Clarke Award, which I was discussing at Eastercon.

Nexus is a drug that's also an operating system: it connects people to each other and to the web, and enhances their senses. The narrator of Nexus, Kaden Lane, has just upgraded to the latest version when he is apprehended by the security services and pressured into helping them investigate a Chinese variant of the same technology.

Kade is an idealist: Sam, the other protagonist, is a hard-boiled government agent with a Tragic Secret. She's adamant that Nexus is dangerous and flawed. Sam and Kade, with three of Kade's stoner friends (each espousing a different agenda regarding Nexus) have plenty of arguments whilst fleeing those who want to use Nexus as a method of enslavement. Ranged against the more conservative forces are the wannabe posthumans, who believe that Nexus holds the key to future evolution.

It's clear from various remarks about open source, compilation, development environments etc that the author has previous in the IT business: turns out he's worked for Microsoft, and for Apex Nanotechnologies. And his afterword is informative: "it's still fiction. The research to date has been a great proof of principle. It's shown that we can get data in and out of the brain. It's shown that we can interpret that data to make sense of what the brain is doing, or to input new data in a way that the brain can make sense of." [loc.5736]

Nexus is a fast-paced cyberpunk thriller that somehow, despite reflecting cutting-edge neuroscience, feels a little dated. Kade and Sam, separately and together, spend a lot of time either fighting (it's a pretty violent book) or fleeing. The pace of the novel is breathless, but slowing down reveals some fundamental inconsistencies in the way that Nexus works. Interesting, but (for me, anyway) unfulfilling.

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