What’s will the next step in human evolution be? If Ramez Naam, one of the “great” minds responsible for Internet Explorer and MS Outlook, happens to be right, it’ll be Nexus. By which he means a drug that through some weird, poorly described nanocyberpunkishsteamdreck overlays a software interface on the brain, in the process making the person post-human. In other words, utter crap; made worse by Naam’s inability to concoct a cogent plot without dragging in a dozen stereotyped tropes. But anyway…
Kaden “Kade” Lane and some friends turned Nexus 3 into Nexus 5. They call the drug “nexus” because it turns human brains nexuses (nexi?) of wireless nodes able to communicate with wireless nodes in nearby brains that are also running Nexus. Lane and some other grad students enhanced the drug with an OS that runs apps, like a “Bruce Lee” app that controls the body like you were a martial arts master, or a “porn star” that… well, you get the point. Of course, the guvmint wants to shut down Nexus 5 – think paranoia about mind control– so they send hottie Robyn Rodriguez (not her real name, which is Samantha Catarenes [not her real name, which is really Sarita Catalan]) to SF to honey-trap the data out of the boy. Along the way, of course, she runs into his bodyguard, an enhanced former marine -- but manages to escape…
Caught with a highly illegal drug, Lane is offered a plea bargain: go under cover to capture a Chinese bigbrain (like Robyn, a smokin’ hot chick), turn out a Bangkok drug lord, and perhaps figure out where a squad of clone soldiers known as “Confucian Fist” came from. This should be easy – after all, there’s gotta be an app for that.
Lane and Robyn/Samantha jet to a conference in Bangkok, where all hell immediately breaks loose. Everyone there is already be “running Nexus,” and all of them desperately want mind meld with Lane to steal whatever makes his version of the drug “better” than what they already have. Along the way, dozens (if not hundreds) of people get blown to bits or burned alive, and of course readers get to see that inevitable “good guy finds out she’s really bad” scene. Yeah: total dreck.
In olden days, quality speculative fiction was created where talent met knowledge; an intersection that’s always been lightly populated: think Asimov, Niven, Sturgeon, Clarke. In an era of self-publishing, neither attribute is necessary. What’s worse is that so many people with just a little knowledge have managed to parlay it into a publishing contract. Ramez Naam seems to be a case in point: he might have some knowledge, but he has zip when it comes to talent.
Nexus demonstrates his lack of talent well. It’s a SpecFic novel set perhaps twenty-five years in the future; although the only obvious difference between 2015 and 2040 is the drugs (is anyone going to remember Bruce Lee in 2040, after he’s been dead for 67 years? Nahhhhh…) Naam has a few ideas - not particularly original ideas, for what it’s worth - about how mankind will evolve into “posthumanity,” and he’s thrown a potpourri of them onto the written page. Naturally, in a sort of pseudo-libertarian post-Snowden sort of “sensibility,” Naam seems naïve enough to believe that releasing the likes of Nexus 5 to the world would solve all mankind’s ills.
Even if that idea weren’t the frighteningly naive, Naam is continuously unable to create readable fiction, a lack that ruins Nexus from the get-go. He opens with crappy characters in the old “grad students who’ll change the world” trope –going so far as to make one of the studs, errr, students, Rangan Shankari, a world-famous DJ in his “spare time” (very likely meant to be a cameo appearance by Naam himself). Three of the inventors of Nexus 5 are grad students, though one of them - the hottie Ilyana – apparently serves no purpose other than token femme; the fourth is the ex-marine killing machine… so, how did three cloistered college students meet an ex-marine? That’s not to mention the gorgeous (of course) “Sam,” who has a messy past of her own – a trope of tropes.
Once an evil government agency manages to seduce/blackmail/coerce Lane, the action moves from the Bay Area to Bangkok. When I say “action,” I mean ACTION. Once Kade and Sam reach Thailand, blood flows in torrents and brain matter coats the streets. People actually explode, sometimes even setting off an inferno. Helicopters swoop down on monasteries and fire missiles at limousines. It’s the sort of encounter FX gurus drool over, although readers – at least the ones who haven’t spent the past two weeks playing HALO – will find it way over the top. Of course, through all the action the “enhanced” Sam remains cool and Lane even boots up Bruce Lee once or twice.
Avoid this dreck at all costs. Unfortunately, Naam loosed several sequels to Nexus on society, and most have loads of rave reviews from the less discerning rabble at the river. More’s the pity – but at least now you know who not to trust for book reviews!