In the future, everyone can become a telepathic wi-fi hotspot when they take the Nexus drug

Written by

Ramez Naam in 2012

Nexus is an interesting book. It tells of a future where, by taking the epynomous drug Nexus, which acts like a computer , people can not only experience psychedelic highs, but also enter and entwine themselves in other people’s thoughts. The dangers of such a drug, or newer, more capable versions of it, are profound, as are the positive possibilities. It is this struggle, between opportunity and threat to humanity, that the book bases its premise.

Kaden Lane is a brilliant neuroscientist armed with Nexus permanently integrated into his brain. His vision is for humanity to be linked up via Nexus and layers of his own programming, turning everybody into super telepathic wifi hotspots. The only problem is, this sort of research is very illegal in the world. The United States, seeing this sort of technology as a possible step into mind control and dominance, forms a special branch of the CIA to investigate, locate and neutralise these sorts of threats.

Kaden is captured, and “encouraged” by the US government to help them track down and take out a perceived threat to national security, a Chinese woman named Su-yong Shu, an even more brilliant neuroscientist who just seems to to make breakthroughs at an exponential rate, protected by supersoldier clones. Sweet mission, guys! Kaden, and the agent who captured him, Sam Catanares, journey to Thailand and attend an international conference to see if they can infiltrate Dr. Shu’s research team and remove the perceived threat posed to America.

As the book goes on, it becomes obvious that there’s a certain level of hypocrisy inherent in the “War on Superhumans”, as it were, since Sam, who is there to accompany and protect Kade is enhanced to the teeth in order to be on equal terms with her opponents. Never mind that she hates the enhancements in her body, but it’s necessary to be able to fight back effectively. Kade wonders if it’s ultimately just safer to just legalise everything they’re doing and have independent oversight, rather than the cloak and dagger tactics he’s now embroiled in.

Nexus is a very well written book, its language frenetic, smart in its execution and never, ever boring. Set in 2040, which is not all that far away, it is a world that differs only in what’s going on in our biology, as the race for dominance turns into the race for who has the best enhancements for their team. There are sequences of action, the characters are mostly interesting, though very much polarised in their views of human augmentation and controlled evolution using nanotechnology. It does ask many questions about where technology could head into the future, what being human means, and whether we should arrive at our maximum potential quickly, rather than wait for evolution to catch up.

The setting is wonderfully laid out in Nexus, with background and world building interspersed throughout the book, though it can be a little confusing at the start, where the characters begin their journeys, as you flit in and out of their perspectives in the first few chapters. Reading Nexus is like getting a perfectly blended cocktail. It has a cool vision of future technologies set in a reasonably familiar setting and a story that sets up so many possibilities. Definitely worth a read.

Rating

A secret agenty mix of The Matrix, Deus Ex and other sci-fi concepts with a bit of Star Trek Borg mixed in. Brilliant!

Should I read this?

If you like your espionage and intrigue, this has it in spades. Add in some fancy electronic whizbanggery, and you’re set.

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