Completed 6/12/2015, Reviewed 6/23/2015
When this book was picked for the July read in my SF book club, I groaned. It’s cyberpunk. Not my fave. I was also put off by its win of the Prometheus award, given to SF books that exemplify the libertarian ideal. But it sucked me in pretty quickly with a graphic sex scene right at the beginning. It’s not that I need graphic sex at all, but it was an intense way to introduce the drug Nexus and its impact on humanity, upon which the premise of the book lies. When ingested, Nexus creates the ability to program the brain like a computer. It also gives you the ability to network with others who are on Nexus and share their thoughts and feelings at a deep, intimate level. It represents the next step in human evolution. And it’s illegal.
One of the masterminds behind the next generation of Nexus and its programming is Kaden Lane. He and his posse are being pursued by Samantha Cataranes, a government agent. She infiltrates a party where they are experimenting with Nexus and captures them, but takes Nexus herself and experiencing the intense effect. Kaden is given a choice: Everyone captured goes to jail for a very long time, or he helps the government find and eliminate a brilliant Chinese neuro-scientist who seems to be planning global domination with the people modified by the Nexus, trans-humans. He agrees and the intrigue begins.
There’s a lot of action, which I often find hard to read. Instead, it was pulse-pounding excitement. So I have to give credit to Naam for writing the action so well. He also handles the explanation of the science pretty well. Naam is actually the author of non-fiction work on trans-humanism, that is, the next step in the evolution of humans through technology. It’s all very interesting, but also scary.
The book deals a lot with the morality of the use of Nexus vs. the government’s suppression of it. Naam makes the convincing case that the government is bad (hence the Prometheus award) and that the only moral thing to do is to help humans evolve into trans-humans. But what’s scary about it is that inevitably, it creates a new world order, replacing one oppressive government with another. It reminds me of the Nazi-propaganda film in the movie “Kiss of the Spider Woman”, where the woman fighting against the Nazis is eventually captured, told the "truth" about how they are helping mankind, and converts to being a Nazi supporter. It doesn’t matter that some will have to die for the greater “good”, as long as that good is achieved.
I have to say that if I hadn’t known that this book won the Prometheus award, I may not have made the connections. I pains me that a really good action story is the medium for propaganda. I feel like in my head I have William Hurt arguing that it’s a beautiful movie and Raul Julia horrified by the realization what it’s really about. So do I give this book four stars for excellent execution or two stars for deplorable content? Let’s settle on a wishy-washy three stars. Of course, isn’t that the attitude that puts me in the cattle car on the way to the concentration camps?