Aug 20, 2013

[Books] Crux

Angry Robot Books' review program has been instrumental in introducing me to different science fiction and fantasy authors that I probably would not have discovered on my own. And one such gem was reading Ramez Naam's Nexus last year. And man, did that book blow me away.

The whole premise behind this series of books is about how humanity might act when faced with "post-humans" - or people who have "evolved" (albeit artificially) into something well beyond what we consider to be "human". And you can just imagine how difficult it is to explain this given the number of quotation marks in this paragraph.

Crux continues our exploration of this post-human scenario that Naam has put together in a manner that remains rather fast-paced and action packed. Naam's work as a futurist really comes into play here as we get to experience a version of our world that has people taking that first leap with the new technology of Nexus and finding their experiences changed completely.

Synopsis: Crux is the science fiction novel sequel to Nexus, the debut fiction novel by Ramez Naam. Disclaimer: I was able to read an advance review copy of the novel in exchange for my honest opinion of the work.

It has been a full six months since Kaden Lane released Nexus 5 into the world. People continue to find new applications for the drug and what it provides such as an orchestra composing music together in their minds, parents connecting with their autistic children for the first time, and many other possibilities. But at the same time Nexus is still prone to abuse and Kaden has taken it upon himself to single-handed police the world's Nexus users. Using special backdoor passwords that only he knows, he is able to take control of those who would abuse Nexus for personal gain.

But the rest of the world has not forgotten about Lane. The ERD continue to hunt him down while they also attempt to get more information out of his friends who are still in their custody. Sam Cataranes has gone on a journey of her own in search of children born with Nexus and to experience what they are able to do with these post-human abilities. And Ling continues to search for her mother, who only exists as a complex artificial intelligence after her body was killed. All the while, the US government has come under attack by a terrorist group known as the Post-Human Liberation front, who appear to be using Nexus to turn innocents into assassins.

As much as Kade gained a lot of confidence over the course of Nexus, he starts Crux with new instabilities - on whether his personal vendetta against Nexus abusers is truly justified. The power that he has over other Nexus users is rather tremendous given the backdoor codes and he constantly debates whether or not he is truly justified in using them. This internal struggle is but a small part of the larger problems at stake as forces continue to step up their efforts in locating Lane and acquiring his knowledge for themselves.

Other chapters bring us back to Sam, although I'm not 100% sure if I appreciated what a sap she's become. I know she had a bit of an emotional epiphany in Nexus, but her chapters did not seem to contribute all that much until she found herself on the run again. Sure it was interesting to sort of "witness" what the Nexus kids could do, but this was replicated in other arcs and thus her story was not 100% necessary.

Naturally I was very interested by the stories of Ling Shu and her mother, now a computer AI actually being "tortured" by her government captors through isolation for the most part. Here Ramez really tried to capture what that kind of an intelligence might be like and how it would respond to this event or that stimulus. That required some very out-of-the-box thinking for sure and his presentation of her was quite compelling.

The overall implications of the events in this book certain indicate that there's a lot more at stake and thus at more story to be told in future books. After all, the bold proclamation in the first book about an inevitable war between humans and post-humans seems most likely to come true based on how this book tries to present things. If anything the premise makes you think for yourself - do you really think this is how the nations of the world will react to post-human development? The answers may not be nice ones, but such is the nature of the truth.

If anything I felt the book took on quite a lot in this story, thus we have a lot of character POV jumping from chapter to chapter. Other than the arcs already discussed, there's still the story of the government scientist with the ERD and even glimpses of the terrorists as part of the narratives. While interesting and helpful, I think we could have edited things down and just have us readers witness certain events as observers instead of going from body-to-body as we get their first person perspective narratives one after another.

Still, Crux is a strong follow-up to Nexus and one that leaves you wanting to find out just what will happen next. The whole series is playing out like a complex theoretical scenario of the future and part of you will end up wanting to be able to change the variables and see what alternatives may come up. Thus I'm happy to rate the book with a firm 4 brilliant applications of the Nexus technology out of a possible 5.

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