Sunday, September 29, 2013

Book Review: Nexus

I really enjoyed Ramez Naam's debut novel, Nexus. As a novel it's a solid debut if a bit formulaic, but as sci-fi/futurism Naam really hits it out of the park.

Nexus is about a bio-tech hacker/researcher who is coerced into working for the government to spy against and ultimate thwart those leading development in his field of research. In this way, it's a very standard average-nerd-in-over-his-head, espionage action-adventure. And even if evaluated only at that level, it's a solid work. If this type of book is your thing, you won't be disappointed.

But what I really loved was the sci-fi trappings of the book. The bio-tech posited in Nexus is a technology to run software on the human brain, to read or change what it's doing, or to run alternate software on it. Three areas are then explored in various ways. The first and least surprising is behavior modification (think of The Matrix's "I know Kung Fu" and you get where this is going). The second is that of the hive-mind, and Naam follows this down several paths of exploration. The third is the concept of a virtual machine. In the ultimate take on "what if you are just a brain in a jar" explored by The Matrix and many others, Naam asks "what if you are just a brain in a jar, and that jar is just a VM running in your REAL brain", he then riffs on this with all the issues around real VMs (rootkits, back-doors, etc). Fun stuff.

Naam uses this sci-fi premise and story to make some points about progress, change, blind obediance to authority, civil liberties and the like. All interesting and most valid, but for me the it was the instruments he constructed to have these discussions that really set the book apart. I can't way to see what he comes up with next.