In the near future.
I love a book whose jacket starts with ‘in the near future.’ Those words instil a sense of hope and possibility; they show a world of potential limited by our own creativity. Ramez Naam has lots of creativity.
Nexus, the first novel by author Ramez Naam, takes place in the near future. It circles around an drug called Nexus. This drug, made not of chemicals but of nanobots, can link together human minds. The drug, highly illegal, is the subject of an eradication campaign by the DEA and homeland security but the public loves it. Some people want to improve on it, doing bigger and better things with the drug. Kaden Lane is a young scientist who’s trying to improve Nexus in a revolutionary way. He’s built an operating system into the drug itself allowing him have better control over his body and the ability to do amazing thing with a touch of a key. He can install knowledge and skills into his mind like the Matrix and control his motor functions, like unconscious tells and twitches. The upgrade does have its dark sides; if used improperly it could control another person’s body, make your will their own.
When Kade gets caught in the sting he gets an offer, be tried as a terrorist or join Homeland Security for a special mission. Kade join a special branch, Emerging Risks Directorate, and goes to Bangkok to infiltrate a tech conference to find a world renowned scientist who the government believes is a terrorist dealing with assassinations and cloning.
This story is about many things, but at its core it’s a thriller/adventure film. What really draws us to the book is its setting and its themes. Much of sci-fi is based either in a dystopia or utopia but the world we see is a world balancing on the line; the setting is a world that hasn’t made it choice. The outcome of this novel, the choice the people make, could push the world into either dystopia or utopia.
The themes of this book are where it really hits hard. The book layers in numerous themes, smaller ones like technological ethics, distrust of the government and the cost of bodily upgrades is your humanity, but the big draw, and the main theme of the book, is responsibility lies on the user. The book looked at a piece of technology, one that could do great harm but can also do great good, and examined with whom the responsibility for the harm that the tech could cause. Does it lie with the creator or with the person who uses it for harm?
This is not normally something we see in science fiction, normally if it’s potentially dangerous it gets destroyed despite the good it could do, although this theme is normally seen in fantasy (magic is not evil or good, the user is).
Reading Ramez Naam reminded me of a time when I was younger, in my high school years, when I dove into book that some would say were well beyond my comprehension. In my junior high and high school years I fed on the works of Michael Crichton. I started with Jurassic Park and Lost World and devoured the rest – Congo, Andromeda Strain, Sphere, Rising Sun, Airframe, Binary, The Great Train Robbery, and Timeline. Crichton was an author who could combine the techno-thriller with a hint of sci-fi and fantasy and make it flow. I loved, and still do, the works of Crichton (often wanting a third book in his JP series) and reading Nexus brought back those feeling I have. Ramez Naam was able to evoke the prepubescent adoration I had stored in my memory for Crichton – but with a modern feel that can only exist in our decade. I expect much from Naam. He is a talented writer who can produce hope like Crichton but still make us feel weary like Phillip K. Dick.