Ramez Naam’s debut novel Nexus is an exemplary piece of hard science fiction. Naam, a self described “professional technologist” (a developer of Microsoft Internet Explorer and nanotechnologist), combines his considerable expertise with a fully drawn future and a tense espionage story.
Nexus is a nano-drug that allows for mind to mind communication. It is dangerous, exciting and highly illegal. In a world struggling with evolution and the very definition of “human”, Nexus throws young optimistic nanotechnologist Kaden Lane into a mess of politics, genetic modifications and scientific consequences.
The narrative is where Nexus struggles a little. While the world building is vivid and enthralling, the story and its characters occasionally border on simple, even two dimensional, in the face of such engaging science. Naam clearly knows his strengths, and he has obviously been patient with the drafting process. As such, even when the sentiments and various ideological positions put forth are quite standard, there is a believability to them, they feel like opinions people and governments would have in reaction to genetic modification.
Interwoven with moral discussions are a series of fast paced and suspenseful action sequences. The threat of actual danger provides a counterpoint to the intellectual danger, and the two feed off each other to further the plot. Kade’s naivety is balanced by the cynicism of his guard/ally Samantha and the desperation of Wats, emotional standpoints that play out tenfold during a fight.
Nexus’s presentation is a little scattered. Alongside the close third person past tense that follows Kade, Wats, Samantha and a smattering of minor characters, Naam also inserts mission briefings, dictionary definitions and transcripts to provide background information. While at times these briefings do skirt into “info dump” territory, they’re also a trope of both science fiction and political thrillers.
Nexus pitches itself as a good novel and meets that goal. It is thought provoking, fun and informative, leaving readers with enough to stimulate interest in the rapidly changing technological world around them. There is, unsurprisingly, a sequel titled Crux available now.
Nexus is published by Angry Robot and is available in paperback from March 3rd, 2015.