Month: March 2013

“Nexus” by Ramez Naam – A Review


'nexus' by ramez naam

“Nexus” by Ramez Naam

(Angry Robot, 464pp, paperback,£8.99

This review was originally published in issue #244 of science-fiction magazine Interzone. You can buy back issues and subscribe to future issues at their shop.

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.

Soup of the Week – Indian Spiced Root Vegetable


indian spiced root vegetable

You may have noticed that my soup of the week blogs have taken something of a hiatus the last few weeks. Part of that is down to a combination of laziness and busyness. Returning home at eleven on a Sunday evening, I find it’s not the best time for cooking. And if the week is busy, it becomes harder to find a time to make soup. Also, eating the same thing week after week is the path to food apathy and ultimately madness.

But we’re back now! Yes, this last week I have been enjoying a soup with a subcontinental twist. Well, nominally. This is one of those rare recipes which makes use of celeriac —  a swede-like root vegetable which tastes kind of nutty and smells of something I can never quite recall.

Ingredients

  • 250g celeriac, peeled and diced
  • 1 parsnip, peeled and diced
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 celery stick, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1/2 tsp chilli powder
  • 850ml vegetable stock

Method

  1. Pre-heat the oven to about 180 degrees (for a fan oven — does anyone not have a fan oven any more?). In a roasting tin, drizzle the celeriac and parsnip with olive oil, and sprinkle over the ground corriander, cumin seeds and chilli powder and season, tossing to coat. Roast for 40 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, sweat down the onion, garlic and celery in olive oil for 15-20 minutes.
  3. Once roasted, add the celeriac and parsnip to the sweated onion mixture, and pour over the stock. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes, before blending until smooth

As root vegetable soups tend to be, this is quite thick, so you might find you need to add a few tablespoons of water to each bowl to reach the desired consistency.

I was, if I’m honest, a touch disappointed with this soup. It was nice enough, but with the spices I was hoping for something a bit more different from the previous root veg soups I’ve made. I think, were I to make it again, I would probably use more chilli powder. I’m not much of a chilli fiend, but the extra kick might have given it a bit more distinction.

However, having said that, this was still a delicious soup. Thick and filling, with a slight edge due to the celeriac, and the warm flavours of the cumin and chilli.

David Cameron, PM (Polite Minister)


angry cameronIn all the furore over the Eastleigh by-election, there was a lot of punditry going on, and a lot of interviews. But it was this little gem which caught my eye, on Friday morning’s Today Programme. In an interview with Education Secretary and child-catcher impersonator Michael Gove, I heard this exchange:

Justin Webb: “Do you need to be as rude as the Prime Minister has been [about UKIP] in the past…?

Michael Gove: “Firstly, the Prime Minister is one of the politest people I know. Secondly, I think there should be less rudeness in politics overall.

Interesting, no? What was being referred to here was David Cameron’s description of UKIP as:

“[UKIP are] a bunch of fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists.

Now regular readers will know that Mr Cameron doesn’t say a great deal that I agree with, but here I think he’s right on the money. The description seems cuttingly accurate about Nigel Farage’s cult of personality, and if you think I’m wrong I’d suggest you give this a read.

But far more interesting than what Cameron thinks of UKIP, is Mr Gove’s assertion that the Prime Minister is one of the politest people he knows. Presumably he then thinks that Mr Cameron is a force for the reduction of rudeness in politics which he says he wants.

Which is a little confusing, to say the least. Surely the Education Secretary cannot be referring to the same Rt Hon David Cameron MP who resorted to sexist put-downs at Prime Minister’s Questions, aimed at a female Labour MP:

…he’s now a GP. [To Angela Eagle] Calm down dear, calm down, calm down. Listen to the doctor!

Perish the thought. Equally, Michael couldn’t have been referring to the same David Cameron who turned that sexism-tinged patronisation towards one of his own party members:

I know the honourable lady [Nadine Dorries, then-Tory MP for Mid-Bedfordshire] is extremely frustrated… [raucous laughter] I’m going to give up on this one!

No, that can’t be the man Mr Gove refers to. Similarly, “one of the politest men” that Mr Gove knows couldn’t be the person who told veteran MP Dennis Skinnerone of the sharpest MPs in the house — that he was too old and should retire:

Well, the honourable gentleman [Dennis Skinner, MP for Bolsover] has the right at any time to take his pension, and I advise him to do so.

If that is what passes for polite these days, then maybe the Daily Mail is right, and we are seeing the death of manners in our society. Then again, given that Michael Gove has been summoned before the Education Select Committee to answer questions over what he knew about bullying allegations levelled at — and apparently covered up — one of his key advisors, maybe Mr Gove’s interpretation should not be taken at face value.