If it isn’t the cinematic handling of some very futuristic images or the curious immersion of cybernetic pondering into the narrative flow; Ramez Naam’s Nexus will impress a reader with one very unusual device: it is the unadulterated humanity with its entire heritage that is the most alien and unfamiliar of this world.
“Nexus” is the namesake and operator of this story, and refers to a new wave of medicines that will enable Homo sapiens to evolve one last time into a species capable of thinking, feeling, and telepathically communicating with each other much as computer terminals do so in a network.
It goes even further that once linked, two or more people would even be able to control each other’s movements and decisions. The philosophical implications of this technology are explored within the dichotomy of two characters: Samantha Cataranes and Kaden Lane. The former, with a deeply tragic past, enables a view into the frighteningly dangerous possibilities while the latter advocates a bright and dynamic potential to improve the human condition. It’s subtle how it develops, but the two find an odd sort of common ground in the vulnerability that is the devotion to make things better for those that they care for.
While this conflict is thoroughly considered, there is no commandment-esque moral that formulates Nexus, and that is one of the work’s strong points. The reader is invited to move through the concept and reach his or her own conclusions as to whether this technology would have too high a risk for exploitation and slavery, or perhaps be a form of developmental completion and the ultimate cure for isolation and elitist tyranny. It is appropriate and moving that the most developed ethical discussions in the book are informed carefully by an ancient tradition: Buddhism.
What deserves special note is how natural this new universe is illustrated. As mentioned, the reader quickly forgets that there are parts of the world that do not as yet immerse themselves into the tides of communal thought, and it is the motivations and purpose of these beings that is often the most jarring, even disturbing.
Whether it is the sex districts of Thailand, the internal construction of a bureaucracy, or simply the unexpected dialogue of an upset visitor, the drug “Nexus” is more than just a topical catalyst. It is then possible to ask the question: what truly made us human in the first place?
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