Nexus – Ramez Naam

About the Book

Mankind gets an upgrade

In the near future, the experimental nano-drug Nexus can link human together, mind to mind. There are some who want to improve it. There are some who want to eradicate it. And there are others who just want to exploit it.

When a young scientist is caught improving Nexus, he’s thrust over his head into a world of danger and international espionage – for there is far more at stake than anyone realizes.

From the halls of academe to the halls of power, from the headquarters of an elite US agency in Washington DC to a secret lab beneath a top university in Shanghai, from the underground parties of San Francisco to the illegal biotech markets of Bangkok, from an international neuroscience conference to a remote monastery in the mountains of Thailand – Nexus is a thrill ride through a future on the brink of explosion.

460 pages (paperback)
Published on December 18, 2012
Published by Angry Robot
Author’s webpage
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This year I learned that social SciFi is one of my favorite (sub?) genres. I can’t seem to get enough of the stuff, and when it’s done well, I can’t stop thinking about it. Books that take place in the near future and deal with our various social issues and evolutions seem to be the thing that gets me going.

Nexus is a book that I really should have been aware of when it came out, but I wasn’t. I ran across it randomly at the library and kind of kicked myself for not reading it sooner. Nexus deals with all the things that I really enjoy. It’s political, deals with drugs, human evolution, the merging of humanity and technology, underground markets, and all of the societal pressures that all of that entails.

The book follows the trail of a few specific characters, each coming at the mystery/plot from different, very justifiable angles. The different perspectives regarding Nexus, and its impact on politics and social structures are probably the most interesting part of the book, and Naam works with these different backgrounds and perspectives perfectly.

The world is a huge, diverse place, and everyone has a story. While readers will like some characters more than others, Naam’s use of these powerful and diverse perspectives makes the book stronger, and will cause readers to be more emotionally invested. Furthermore, it strips Nexus from having strict blacks and whites in aspects of morality.

I love books that deal with moral gray areas, and this one does in big, impressive ways. This moral gray-ness makes the book incredibly thought provoking. It’s easy to see how numerous people from numerous backgrounds and cultures to deal with the social changes and pressures that Nexus would bring, and it made me wonder where our world is going, and just how I, or “we” would deal with a drug like Nexus hitting the market.

The book moves forward at a fast clip, and the mystery is interesting, and rather compelling, but it’s all the stuff I mentioned above that really made Nexus sing. However, this is also where I found the biggest flaws in the book. There are some leaps of logic, some obvious moves, some of the characters felt more like sketches at certain points. The world building and the futurist elements are vastly more engaging and well done that the actual plot. Thankfully those fantastic aspects are also so easy to pay attention to, and think about, and it tends to mask the rather ho-hum parts of the plot and the fact that the book is rather unbalanced as a whole.

Perhaps this book impressed me less than I first thought due to the unbalanced feel that I mentioned above. For such thought provoking world building and real future, some of the rather cartoonish character elements and predictable plot points left me a little underwhelmed in the scope of things. I’ve read some truly solid social science fiction this year, and while this does probably rank among them in many ways, it has its own set of problems.

What Nexus is based on is far and away incredible. It is sure to leave readers thinking important thoughts, and the vision of the future is shockingly believable and plausible. It is very unfortunate that the actual plot doesn’t match the world building. The characters did a great job at highlighting the different perspectives and stripping away any moral absolutes. With all these points of the book that just rocked so hard, I am hesitant to give Nexus an incredible rating. It just isn’t balanced, and that is felt.

Is Nexus worth reading? Absolutely. Are there problems? Unquestionably. However, it’s also thought provoking, well written, believable, and based on one of the more hauntingly believable futures I’ve ever read. That seemed to overwhelm anything else.


3/5 stars

One Responses

  • Your last paragraph pretty much sums up how I felt about Nexus. I felt that Naam had some ways to go in terms of character and story development, but it moved along well and was very readable, and the ideas were fascinating. I haven’t read the sequel, yet.

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