Commentary

Review: The Nexus Trilogy

Over my vacation I had some time to read, a welcome change from normal. While I finished the first book in this trilogy prior to my departure over a couple weeks, I was able to inhale the next two books in about four days. I highly enjoyed all of it. The trilogy is written by Ramez Naam, and the three books are entitled Nexus, Crux, and Apex, respectively. The narratives in all three are tightly commingled, I can’t recommend anything other than to read all three, in order, with minimal interruption.

The trilogy has many focal characters, but the central persisting group are neuroscience researchers who you meet at the beginning of the first book: Kaden Lane and Rangan Shankari, along with their compatriots Ilya Alexander and Watson Cole. They have developed a new version of a street drug, Nexus, which allows people to communicate brain-to-brain and share thoughts. Also introduced early is Samantha Cataranes, an agent of the US government’s Emerging Risks Directorate, who is on a mission to stop them.

It’s almost impossible to have a longer discussion than that without wandering into spoilers, but I can say that the book is not only a roller coaster ride befitting this sort of technothriller, but also a fascinating exploration of the implications of cognitive enhancement technology like Nexus. Naam is able to not only explore the promise and potential of such technologies through the eyes of his scientist protagonists, but also show very pointedly the ways they can go wrong. The scientists, especially Kaden, the protagonist, are interesting characters whose motivations are clearly shown to be at times both idealistic and self-serving. The shades of grey on this side are thought-provoking, and one of my favorite parts of the story. The equivalent development of the characters within government was more variable. While there were characters who had changes of heart, or considerations about the technology in context, some were much more rigid in their opinions. This is not a bad thing…but where I feel that this response fell short was the way this rigidity was portrayed. At the beginning there was a protagonist/antagonist dichotomy that I did not think fit with the ambiguity given in discussions about the technology itself. I will say that by the third book this was handled better.

One of the great parts of each book was an afterword Naam wrote discussing real-world development in the space of cognitive enhancement and human modification. Seeing where Naam was taking his science from was eye-opening; I felt that this was one of the first books that I’ve read which truly put the “science” back into “science fiction” in some time. Naam wrote non-fiction prior to this series of novels, his other books are now on my to-read list.

In a weird bit of intersection, I’d highly recommend these books to anyone who enjoys typical cyberpunk fare, as well as readers of Michael Crichton or Robert Ludlum. I don’t know how well these books will age, given the highly present technology commentary, but in the now they’re a fantastic look at where we as humans could be headed.

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