Born: Cairo, Eygpt
B.A., Computer Science, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Thriller Sub-genre: Spy, Conspiracy and Techno-thriller
Publisher: Angry Robot
Future of the series: Naam wrote the Nexus series as a trilogy with the last book in the series released on 5/5/15 entitled Apex.
Review of the latest in the series- Apex
The Simon Review
“Illegal nano-drug links minds. Spies, hackers, super-soldiers. Chinese clones, Buddhist monks, uploaded posthumans, and explosions, oh my.”-Ramez Naam
This is a quote taken from an interview with Ramez Naam discussing his latest novel Crux on the blog TerribleMinds and I think it nicely summarizes what to expect from this series which means a whole lot of fun. Naam has an impressive resume which includes spending over a decade at Microsoft working on Outlook, Explorer, and Bing, creating a start up company known as Apex Nanotechnologies, and is now an award winning novelist of both fiction and non-fiction works. His series Nexus is a futuristic techno-thriller and focuses on the use of nanotechnology (see technical word in review) and its possible impact on humanity.
The nanoparticle of interest in this series is in the form of a mind enhancing nano-drug known as Nexus. The series begins with two neuroscientist/computer scientists developing an upgraded version of Nexus known as Nexus 5 which differed from its previous version by creating a permanent link to its host as well as giving the user the ability to read others thoughts and feelings as well as potentially controlling another’s actions. With these upgrades the potential for great benefits to humanity as well has great harm makes this a very powerful drug. The other effect of Nexus 5 is that children born to women who have Nexus 5 will also carry the nanoparticle and because they are exposed to Nexus at birth, the influence is considerably stronger which gives rise to a new and enhanced human being known in the series as posthumans.
There are a number of lead characters in this series which includes Kaden Lane, the primary developer of Nexus 5. Lane starts out the series as a young naive idealist that wants to see Nexus 5 put to good use but as the series continues he is placed into an ethical dilemma on how his invention would best be used. Lane reminds me a lot of Frodo from the Lord of the Rings movie, like Frodo he carries around something important which in this case is knowledge of Nexus 5 and everybody around him is being killed or beaten up while trying to protect him. One of his protectors is Samantha Cataranes who is an agent with the Emerging Risk Directorate (ERD) of the US Department of Homeland Security who had been biologically enhanced to become an incredible fighting machine. In the beginning, Cataranes and others at the ERD are using Lane to spy on Shu-Yong Shu, a neuroscientist that is believed to be working on Nexus enhancements for the Chinese government. Later Cataranes has a change of heart and helps protect Kane from everybody including the ERD.
There are many other good characters in the series and the plot is complicated but Naam is very good at keeping it manageable and easy to follow. Even though this is a techno-thriller with plenty references on technology, you don’t need to have a PhD in Computer Science to follow it. Naam also creates a lot of parallels with many of the failings in today’s society with that of the futuristic Nexus setting, such as, global warming, terrorism, government subterfuge, and corporate ambition. The series must be read in order and the latest addition will be coming out in May and you can bet I will be one of the first in line to read it.
Most Favorite Novel in the Series- Crux-because of a deeper development of the characters.
Least Favorite Novel in the Series- Nexus-is about as good as Crux except that the characters are a bit more shallow than in Crux
What about the science? Naam does a follow up at the end of each novel, which I highly recommend reading, discussing the latest technology and its relevance to the fictional technology he uses in his writings.
The Kaden Lane Technical Word in Review: Nanotechnology-is a broad field of science that involves the manipulation of matter at the atomic level. The concept of nanotechnology began with Richard Feynman in 1959 and the term nanotechnology was first coined by material scientist Norio Taniguchi in 1974. It was in 1981 when nanotechnology became possible with the advent of the scanning tunneling microscope (STM). STM got its name from a concept in quantum mechanics known as tunneling. Tunneling takes into account Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle which is the concept that both the position of a quantum particle, such as an electron, and its momentum cannot be predicted at the same time. Only the probability of where a quantum particle exists at any one time can be determined. There is a region of space where a particle would have a very low probability of existing and this region acts much like a barrier. At the quantum level, particles also have wave-like properties and because of these properties, the ability for a particle to get past the barrier is possible. Getting past the barrier is known as tunneling and is what the STM is based on.
For the STM to work, a needle-like tip, where the tip projects one atom, is brought to the surface of the object of interest. A small voltage is applied which in turn initiates tunneling and a current is produced known as the tunneling current. The strength of the tunneling current can be measured and is affected by the distance of the tip from the surface of the object. As the tip moves along the surface, a pattern is obtained at the atomic level and with that nanotechnology was born. With ability to “see” materials at the atomic level in dimensions of 1-100 nanometers, it is now possible to manipulate material at that level.
(A Scanning tunneling microscope image of a gold particle)
Image from Wikimedia Commons
The nanotechnology in Naam’s Nexus is in the form of a drug and though his drug at the moment is a figment of science fiction, nano-drugs are not. Two nano-drugs have been approved by the FDA for use which includes Abraxane, to treat various cancers, and Doxil, used in the treatment of HIV-related Karposi’s sarcoma, ovarian cancer and multiple myeloma. Even though nano-drugs are in use presently, the possibility of a Nexus-like drug is way out there mainly because we know so little about the brain and how we can possibly integrate such technology with it. However, as for being able to read into the mind of others, the idea is not so far-fetched. An international group of scientists has designed a device that has the ability to create a very limited mind to mind communication that involves the use of electroencephalogram (EEG) technology and robotized transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). As you can imagine this technology has some wonderful potential benefits as well as abuses. Perhaps in the near future we may look back and realize that the good ole days were when all we had to worry about was whether our phone conversations were being tapped.
Public outrage of these events led to a steep drop in popularity of President Owen Asher and a marked increase in public support of laws restricting research into genetics, cloning, nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, and any approach to creating “super-human” beings.-Nexus
Books in the Series by Order:
Most Favorite in the series: Apex with a score of 4.19
Least Favorite in the series: Nexus with a score of 4.07
Based on overall ratings from Goodreads, Library Thing, Rakuten Kobo, and Amazon
Winner of the 2014 Prometheus Award for Best Novel
Winner of the 2014 Endeavor Award
Listed #35 out of 553 on Goodreads Best Technothrillers Ever Book List
The woman who called herself Samantha Cataranes climbed out of the cab and walked towards the house on 23rd Street.
Kaden Lane: Inventor of Nexus 5
Samantha Cataranes aka Samara Chavez aka Sarita Catalan aka Robyn Rodriguez aka Sunee Martin: Agent for the Emerging Risk Directorate (ERD) of the US Department of Homeland Security.
Su-Yong Shu: Neuroscientist and first true posthuman
Watson Cole: Former US marine, now peace activist and Buddhist, works with Kaden Lane
Rangan Shankari: Co-inventor of Nexus 5
Somdet Phra Ananda: Professor at Chulalongkorn University in Thailand and high Buddhist monk
Feng: Confucian Fist D-42, a highly specialized clone soldier
Kevin Nakamura: Samantha Cataranes’s mentor
Martin Holtzmann: ERD’s Neuroscience Director
San Francisco, CA and Bangkok, Thailand
In the near future, the experimental nano-drug Nexus can link human together, mind to mind. There are some who want to improve it. There are some who want to eradicate it. And there are others who just want to exploit it.
When a young scientist is caught improving Nexus, he’s thrust over his head into a world of danger and international espionage – for there is far more at stake than anyone realizes.
From the halls of academe to the halls of power, from the headquarters of an elite US agency in Washington DC to a secret lab beneath a top university in Shanghai, from the underground parties of San Francisco to the illegal biotech markets of Bangkok, from an international neuroscience conference to a remote monastery in the mountains of Thailand – Nexus is a thrill ride through a future on the brink of explosion.
“So you’re a brain guy? Have you heard of this drug Nexus?” she asked.
Kade nodded cautiously. “I’ve heard of it.”
“They say it’s some sort of nano-structure, not really just a drug. And that it links brains. Is that possible?”
Kade shrugged. “We can do it with wires and with radios. Why not with something you swallow? As long as it gets into your brain…”
Looking for a review of Nexus? Check out:
The Writerly Blog of Lane William Brown
Amazon Rating: 4.48 out of 5 stars based on 955 ratings
Rakuten Kobo Rating: not rated
GoodReads Rating: 4.05 out of 5 stars based on 17,308 ratings
Library Thing Rating: 3.79 out of 5 stars based on 285 ratings
Total Score 4.07 (updated 10/21/20)
Listed #101 out of 553 on Goodreads Best Technothrillers Ever Book List
The pianist’s hands glide across the keys, spreading out to left and right, fingers striking keys in unison.
Kaden Lane, Samantha Cataranes aka Samara Chavez aka Sarita Catalan aka Robyn Rodriguez aka Sunee Martin, Su-Yong Shu, Rangan Shankari, Feng, Martin Holtzmann, and Kevin Nakamura
Ling Shu: So-Yung Shu’s posthuman daughter
Shiva Prasad: An entrepreneur turned philanthropist, who wants to develop a new generation of Nexus children to save the world
Washington, DC, Shanghai, China, Thailand, and Vietnam
Six months have passed since the release of Nexus 5. The world is a different, more dangerous place.
In the United States, the terrorists – or freedom fighters – of the Post-Human Liberation Front use Nexus to turn men and women into human time bombs aimed at the President and his allies. In Washington DC, a government scientist, secretly addicted to Nexus, uncovers more than he wants to know about the forces behind the assassinations, and finds himself in a maze with no way out.
In Thailand, Samantha Cataranes has found peace and contentment with a group of children born with Nexus in their brains. But when forces threaten to tear her new family apart, Sam will stop at absolutely nothing to protect the ones she holds dear.
In Vietnam, Kade and Feng are on the run from bounty hunters seeking the price on Kade’s head, from the CIA, and from forces that want to use the back door Kade has built into Nexus 5. Kade knows he must stop the terrorists misusing Nexus before they ignite a global war between human and posthuman. But to do so, he’ll need to stay alive and ahead of his pursuers.
And in Shanghai, a posthuman child named Ling Shu will go to dangerous and explosive lengths to free her uploaded mother from the grip of Chinese authorities.
The first blows in the war between human and posthuman have been struck. The world will never be the same.
Ilya’s right, Kade realized. If I deserved the back doors, then so does Shiva. If Shiva doesn’t deserve them, then I don’t either.
Are you wiser than all humanity? Anada had asked.
That was the crux, wasn’t it?
Rory from Goodreads had a problem with Ramez Naam’s writing style in his novel Crux.
What is it with his metaphors? Many just lack words that he expects the reader to fill in.
“Layers of rage and grief peeled off him like an onion.”
Yeah, all those onions I constantly need to peel off of myself. And how often do body parts surge, or muscles groan (have you ever heard a muscle groan)?
Looking for a review of Crux? Check out:
William Hertling’s Thought Stream
Amazon Rating: 4.55 out of 5 stars based on 439 reviews
Rakuten Kobo Rating: not rated
GoodReads Rating: 4.13 out of 5 stars based on 9,150 ratings
Library Thing Rating: 4.04 out of 5 stars based on 124 ratings
Total Score 4.15 (updated 10/21/20)
Listed #465 out of 553 on Goodreads Best Technothrillers Ever Book List
Listed #125 out of 168 on Goodreads Best Science Thrillers Book List
Listed on Buzzfeed’s 24 Best Science Fiction Books of 2015
Winner of the 2016 Philip K. Dick Award
A sample clip from the audiobook
This is how the human era ends.
Kaden Lane, Samantha Cataranes aka Samara Chavez aka Sarita Catalan aka Robyn Rodriguez aka Sunee Martin, Su-Yong Shu, Rangan Shankari, Feng, Martin Holtzmann, Kevin Nakamura, Shiva Prasad and Ling Shu
Washington, DC, China, and India
Global unrest spreads as mass protests advance throughout the US and China, Nexus-upgraded riot police battle against upgraded protestors, and a once-dead scientist plans to take over the planet’s electronic systems. The world has never experienced turmoil of this type, on this scale. They call them the Apex – humanity’s replacement. They’re smarter, faster, better. And infinitely more dangerous.
Humanity is dying. Long live the Apex.
Peace floods in.
How did I ever think I was at the apex? she wonders. There is so much more. So much more to do. To learn.
There always will be.
Looking for a review of Apex? Check out:
Amazon Rating-US: 4.55 out of 5 stars based on 379 ratings
Rakuten Kobo Rating: 4.50 out of 5 stars based on 18 ratings
GoodReads Rating: 4.17 out of 5 stars based on 6,590 ratings
Library Thing Rating: 4.06 out of 5 stars based on 83 ratings
Total Score 4.19 (updated 10/21/20)