Apr 28, 2015

[Books] Apex

Apart from The Lives of Tao, one of the first Angry Robot Books series that I got into was the Nexus trilogy. Nexus was a rather compelling, unique book premise to begin with given the nature of the Nexus drug as a delivery system for the NexusOS - an operating system in your brain. Initially it seemed like a silly little idea, but things quickly progressed into a far more complex world and quite the epic struggle to fight for posthuman and transhuman rights.

And then I did my research and realized that the author had some serious credentials when it comes to such forward thinking, and so this was the best resource to write a book of this nature. And while to some extent all science fiction has some basis or inspiration in the present times, there's something to be said about a science type person exploring his or her ideas through fiction of this nature.

It all sort of reminds me of Alan Lightman''s Einstein's Dreams, which was an interesting exploration of various concepts of time presented as a series of dreams being experienced by Albert Einstein. It's one of my favorite books and it's sort of an inspiration to finally get around to writing creatively again.

Synopsis: Apex is the third book in Ramez Naam's Nexus trilogy of science novels. The book is a directly sequel to Crux and takes place almost immediately after the events of the first book.

A large part of the book has to do with Ling, daughter of Su-Yong Shu and now host to her Avatar, a fragment of her quantum consciousness hidden in Ling's brain. The Avatar has a single mission - to seek revenge for her imprisonment, take down humanity and ensure her freedom. And young Ling is helpless to watch as the Avatar assumes control of her body and the mind of her father and many others. The Avatar is not quite Su-Yong Shu - if anything she seems to be a single-minded aspect of her hate installed in her daughter's brain.

Beyond that, we have our sort of hero Kaden Lane trying to escape to India with the children they had rescued at the end of Book 2. You have Sam, former ERD agent trying to figure out her path forward and dealing with the question if she'll ever embrace Nexus again. And in the US we have Rangan, still on the run from the authorities but still generally committed to Nexus and observant enough to realize that not everything as it seems in the ongoing protests against the government.

Now this book felt particularly ambitious, since it really wanted to explore things on a more global scale versus the very Kaden-centric perspective in the prior books. Kaden is still important in this final chapter, but we also spend an equal amount of time exploring different perspectives and views of the state of the world and the shifting opinions related to Nexus and the rise of other posthuman and transhuman personalities. This aspect to the narrative certainly provides a wider perspective of everything that's going on, and I certainly appreciated the scope of the story.

At the same time, the book feels just a little bit bloated and becomes a little unwieldy since we have to follow the progress of so many characters all at the same time. And this goes beyond seeing the perspectives of both the heroes and the villains, in a simplistic manner of speaking. Naam made sure to really dive into various view points including government officials for various countries, individuals being held prisoners in the hopes of extracting critical intelligence and all that fun stuff. So it's nice to have access to all these projections of how people might deal with the events of the book, but it also gets a little dizzying.

The prior books really focused on Nexus, NexusOS and how it could expand the consciousness of various individuals. We saw how it became a powerful tool for meditation and they certainly pushed into interesting applications related to learning and reaching out to individuals with special needs. Here we really focused on the prior revelation that Su-Yong Shu was now a powerful artificial intelligence or really a machine translation of a human mind. She had done some significant damage in the prior book given her questionable mental state and now her Avatar is out in the world trying to continue her work. Sure there's also some part of her plans to find a way to free the true brain. But in the short term there's a lot of petty revenge bits as she lashes out and tries to bring the planet to the edge of chaos.

In this regard, the book really does well in terms of illustrating the tools at her disposal and how one might topple world governments through conflict, confusion and intrigue. If anything, the Avatar's plan was all too human in how it tried to take advantage of human quirks and failings - perhaps even her own from her previous life or something.

Despite its almost staggering length, Apex remains quite the compelling book and a brilliant exploration of how such technologies night impact the future world. Sure, we might have individual opinions about how things might go instead, but that's really neither here nor there. So the book gets 4 complex plans set in motion by the Avatar out of a possible 5.

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