by Ramez Naam
Review by Mel Jacob
Angry Robot Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9780857662934
Date: 18 December 2012 List Price $14.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
In Nexus, Ramez Naam explores the abilities of transhumans and how humanity might reach such a state. He also considers the benefits and warns of the dangers. In Nexus, the means involve a drug, Nexus 5, and software that can modify and control physical and mental actions. It makes mind linking ala the Vulcan mind meld possible. The major question is will nation states sit idly by and allow these developments or will they do all in their power to prohibit or control them for their own advantage?
Naam’s protagonist Kaden Lane, a doctoral student and his friends have experimented with Nexus 5 to link mind and incorporated software to provide enhanced abilities such as those of Don Juan and Bruce Lee.
The U.S. government has banned Nexus 5 use and is on the trail of Kade and his friends. Samantha Cataranes, a government agent, infiltrates a Nexus cell. She has been genetically modified and provided with enhanced physical abilities. She hates the potential of Nexus to control and coerce others because as a child she was subjected to something similar.
When ERD, the Emerging Risks Directorate, via Samantha, captures Kade and his friends, they either face prison or agree to work for the agency. Only one man escapes. ERD wants their supply of Nexus 5, all their work and software enhancements-- and cooperation. Specifically, they want Kade to accept a postdoctoral position with a noted Chinese researcher. She is reputed to have used mind control to cause the deaths of various officials and operatives. They believe she has created transhuman clones and is providing such techniques to the Chinese government.
Kade and his colleagues have an idealist view of the world and see Nexus 5 as the potential for ending all wars. They want to spread their knowledge as widely as possible. He has some reservations because of its possible use as a coercive technology.
When Kade attends an international conference in Bangkok and meets Shu, the Chinese researcher, he must make a difficult choice and live with consequences. Various governments, including the U.S., are passing ever more restrictive laws against Nexus. They will go to any lengths to suppress or control Nexus 5 and transhumans.
The concept of the hive mind and transhumans has been covered by other authors. The Borg in Star Trek, the Next Generation, is one example of a blend of machine and humans with a hive mind. Paul McAuley in the Quiet War trilogy dealt with various genetic mutations to adapt humans to live on planets unlike earth. In Fairyland, McAuley deals with psycho and gene engineering to create a new species that eventual fights the rest of humanity.
Most readers will enjoy the excitement as Kade does his best to keep his friends safe and yet remain true to his own belief. Naam provides plenty of action and high body counts.
Naam also provides thoughtful discussions of transhumans from both sides. His characters all have missions and are more than simple stereotype except for the politicians. Hate and anger at the Americans along with new abilities proves a heady mix for some transhumans. He poses, but doesn’t answer, the question can humans and transhumans move beyond this and live in peace.
Some aspects involve the Department of Homeland Security and the restriction of civil liberties. The old question of when do the ends really justify the means becomes paramount. Buddhism plays an interesting role.
Naam's next novel, Crux, depicts the war between transhumans and repressive governments. It's due out in September, 2013.