(Angry Robot, 464pp, paperback,£8.99
Hard SF is an interesting concept for me as a reviewer. It revels in being highly technical, and garners further esteem from being accurate. It’s an effect doubled with near-future SF, given that it’s more deeply grounded in present day ideas and technologies.
So it falls to me to say that I know precious little about the details, the nitty-gritties of nanotechnology, upon which Nexus is largely predicated. But it seems that Ramez Naam does, being a professional heavily involved in the technology, as well as the ethics surrounding it. So it’s safe to say that he knows what he’s talking about.
Nexus shows us a world where a drug can link human minds together, where bodies and minds can be improved beyond their physical constraints, and where the primary concern of law enforcement is stopping people exceeding the limitations of humanity. It takes the reader on a wild ride halfway around the world, with both practical and moral ramifications taking centre stage.
Of course, knowing the subject matter does not necessarily make someone a good writer, and at times Naam did lapse into rather stilted and perfunctory prose. It won’t be winning any awards for poetic storytelling, but in the almost unceasing fury of the plot progression that faded almost to insignificance.
And considering that blistering pace, he pulled off quite a lot of characterisation. The background characters remained little more than pieces on a chessboard, but he managed to inject real life and likability into the three leads. Mostly this takes place in the breathing moments before the action sequences – which, really, wouldn’t have seemed out of place in the latest Bond movie.
So I enjoyed Nexus. Naam explained the technobabble surprisingly well and the premise felt, at times, all too believable. I think that’s kind of the point. The somewhat dystopian vision of a future where scientific research into post-humanism is limited seems all the more chilling when you can draw parallels to present day restrictions and debates around potentially life-saving stem cell research.
At times the plot became simply a vessel for the debate Naam clearly wants to promote, but I’d be lying if I said it got in the way of my enjoyment. The epilogue, tacked on the end, was a perfect example of this – it wasn’t strictly necessary, and felt a little out of place as part of the story, but I understood its purpose.
Overall, Nexus was a very readable book. I felt it dealt with real world ramifications of next-generation technology in a believable, if somewhat scary, fashion. And as a story, it trod the line of being accurate without veering into boring, and action-packed without descending into the trite or vapid. There is a dictionary full of reviewer clichés mandated for this kind of situation, but actually I think I’m just going to say that Nexus was rather good, and you should read it.