Monday, 7 January 2013

Nexus by Ramez Naam

Nexus

This is a tasty bit of sci-fi that seems to flirt on the very edges of what is possible. Nexus is a drug that  allows people to meld with each other's minds, mentally touch their thoughts and memories, have beautiful wordless conversations. Nexus is also a drug that allows governments, organisations, individuals to directly control the actions of others, can be used as a weapon, and is illegal. The two sides of this drug make it one of the most contentious inventions 2040 has to deal with. 

Kaden Lane is a genius, working towards his PhD in brain-computer communication. It's his sideline improving and upgrading Nexus that most interests ERD (Emerging Risks Directorate) agent Samantha Cataranes. He is dedicated to the thing she has sworn to destroy. Where he sees opportunity and freedom, and the chance for humans to take a next giant step forward, Samantha sees threat and coercion and terror. It makes her job going undercover at one of Kade's Nexus experimentation parties a difficult mission for her to complete. As much as she hates the power of the drug she is also strangely thrilled by it, and rather drawn towards Kade himself. 

The party itself ends badly for everyone, and Kade and Sam find themselves collaborating on a new project. Kade is a reluctant spy but the ERD have the fate of his friends to hang over him. Sam's not much keener than he is, but she has her orders. It's no easy assignment for either one, and what they learn makes them both targets.

The story is tense and exciting, with that 'just one more chapter' addictive quality to it. I loved the character development, of Sam in particular, her personal history is scary stuff. There are other some good characters too, like Watson Cole, ex-Marine and damaged goods. All the enhanced-human stuff is fascinating, because it all seems near enough to touch these days. Ethics and control play nicely throughout the book; what's possible, desirable, who can control it, who should? Innovation not under official control is a scary thing for governments to deal with. Kade and Sam are tools used by the US authorities, but being human means thinking for yourself and making your own decisions. It leads them on a dangerous journey, quite literally, which makes for a very excellent novel for us to read.

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