lunes, 29 de septiembre de 2014

Nexus, by Ramez Naam

(Disclaimer: English is my second language, so I want to apologize in advance for there may be mistakes in the text below. If you find any, please let me know so that I can correct it. I'd really appreciate itThanks.)

Review Soundtrack: I suggest reading this review while listening to the The Nexus, by Amaranthe (Spotify, YouTube).

I have had Nexus, Ramez Naam's excellent debut novel, for too long sitting on my shelf, mainly because of the techno-thriller that has been many times attached to it. In my reduced experienced, techno-thrillers usually have little of techno (and, even worse, that little is often implausible and misguided) and much of (conventional) thriller, a combination that I couldn't care less for. But Nexus is a completely different beast.

If I had to use just two words to summarize my impressions after reading Nexus, they would "perfect balance". Perfect balance between the scientific speculation and the action scenes; perfect balance between developing the characters and advancing the plot; perfect balance between entertaining the readers and making them think.

One of the most pleasant surprises of Nexus was the way Naam manages to make ideas that are not specially new or original (brain implants or body augmentations, for instance) really thought provoking. And that is because he focuses not only on the changes that these technologies will bring for the individuals adopting them, but for the society as a whole. It is evident that Naam has devoted a lot of time to think about these issues and has been able to convey both the chances and possibilities that this revolution would bring and the risks that we, as a species, would likely be facing when it comes.

The characters are a bit cliched but, nonetheless, really interesting, mainly because they have to make really difficult ethical choices. There is also a clear evolution of their personalities, most notably in the case of Samantha Cataranes, whose arc makes a perfect use of hints and flashbacks. The secondary characters are also very interesting, especially Feng, who seems to be taken from a (good) James Bond movie, and Mai, who is not only used to great emotional impact but also gives some clues about the paths that Crux, the sequel to Nexus, can follow.  

The pace is almost perfect. I think most of you will agree that "page-turner" is a word that has been overused to describe books, but in this case it aptly describes what you will find in Nexus. Despite the book having more than 450 pages, I read it in just a few days. The chapters are short, with many changes of point of view, and there is always something interesting happening, whether you are reading an action scene or a discussion about the moral implications of a certain technology. Some parts are hilarious (the test of the Don Juan program, for instance), others are full of sense of wonder (the visit to the ... market) or emotionally moving (some of the revelations about the past life of Cataranes). Again, an excellent mix of different elements with a perfect balance.

I also enjoyed very much an extra chapter, after the story ends, in which the author explains some actual scientific research that inspired him to create the technological background of the novel. It is brief, but completely awe-inspiring. So much, that, after finishing Nexus, I immediately started reading More Than Human, a non-fiction book that Naam wrote several years before his novel and in which focuses on the different ways science can help enhancing both the body and the brain.

Despite all this, Nexus also has some minor problems. As I mentioned above, some of the characters are a bit one-dimensional and cliched, especially the ones working for the American government. The prose is serviceable at best, and you will struggle to find a metaphor. But the main problem, in my opinion, is that the book is not very subtle and even a bit preachy sometimes. I really think that Naam makes some very good points in favor of scientific and technological progress, but though I tend to agree with that vision, I have a feeling that he is too optimistic about human nature.

Anyway, I can highly recommend reading Nexus. It is a fun, thought-provoking read, an excellent combination of interesting speculation with a gripping plot. I only regret not having read it before and I am really looking forward to reading Crux,  which is already waiting for me on my Kindle.

Note: I want to thank my good friend Leticia Lara, from Fantástica-Ficción, for pushing me to read this wonderful novel. Thanks, Leti!

(You can also read this review in Spanish/También puedes leer esta reseña en español)    

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