Book Review: The Nexus Trilogy

A friend once declared that my husband, Bryan, is from the future. And it’s true, he is.

He sees the beginning of things and understands the likelihood of where it’ll end up — like that season in 2005 when he’d go to geek gatherings in Seattle with a video camera and say, “Have you heard of this thing called YouTube? I think it might be important.” (A chain of events that eventually lead him to help the first ever Ignite Seattle turn into a worldwide movement).

I got the same vibe from author Ramez Naam when I read his three-book series, Nexus, Crux, and Apex, set in the year 2040.

Ramez Naam at Ignite Seattle, 2008; Photo by Randy Stewart.
Ramez Naam at Ignite Seattle, 2008; Photo by Randy Stewart.

The Scoop

The story is built around nanotechnology and the ability to connect our brains with computers. Then imagine the ability to build software on top of that technology — an app store for your brain, if you will.

Need to calm your anxiety? No problem. There’s an app for that.

Lost an arm? No problem. We’ll connect your prosthetic arm to nodes in your brain so you can make it move just by thinking about it.

As you might suspect, there is conflict over whether this is a good thing or a bad thing. On the one hand, communicating telepathically with my mom, who’s had a stroke and is no longer verbal, sounds fantastic.

On the other hand, my brain could be hacked and used to control my body to do something terrible.

In Context

I read the first two books many months ago, but I was reading Apex recently as people boycotted Target for their transgender-friendly bathrooms, and Donald Trump’s destructive rhetoric rose to power, and Hillary Clinton was absolved by the FBI of her email scandal, and the Orlando night club was shot up, and Alton Sterling was killed, and Philando Castile was killed, and eleven Dallas police officers were shot, leaving five dead.

These were interesting times to be reading a global, political, science fiction thriller, as fiction and real life seemed to be running in parallel.

In real life, I was consumed by articles and videos related to human rights issues on race, sexual orientation, and gender identification. In fiction, transhumans — those with nanotechnologies in their brains — faced discrimination, oppression, and other atrocities.

In real life, I watched the Facebook Live broadcast of Philando Castile’s girlfriend following his death — the first time I’m aware of that this live feature was used to broadcast an incident like this. In fiction, I read of people broadcasting protests worldwide, in real time, using connected networks from their minds.

I also read about political scandal, inciting rhetoric, and roadblocked policy changes, all while tracking with similar issues in real life.

On a day when I was too distracted by the Facebook Snowball Effect to get much work done, I was reminded of this passage from Apex:

Carolyn Pryce watched the screens, transfixed. It was blowing up. Everywhere. Maybe Shanghai had started it. Maybe something else. But now… Every shooting, every explosion, every brutality someone on Nexus captured went viral. They ricocheted around the globe. They fed more violence, enraging protesters, driving police to more extreme measures. It was a feedback loop. White noise. The whole thing going to a screeching caterwaul that was going to break the windows of civilization.

As my Facebook feed exploded with articles and conversations about the chaotic world around me, I realized the character of Carolyn Pryce was witnessing the futuristic Nexus Snowball Effect.

My Takeaway

As I mentioned earlier, the series takes place in the year 2040, when my kids will be in their 30’s, and I’ll be in my 60’s. The nearness of that time frame is one thing that made the books so exciting for me. I can imagine using nanotechnology in my lifetime. I can imagine my son, Thomas, who’s firmly planted in the YouTube and virtual reality generation, grasping the benefits of it while also being cautious of its achilles heel.

But in Naam’s future, some things never change. Politics is still politics. Corruption in leadership is still a thing. People who are different are still marginalized. Policy still doesn’t change hearts. In other words, we’re all still very human.

But that shouldn’t leave us hopeless.

In Micah 6:6-7, the narrator asks (my paraphrase), What can be done to please the Lord? What can be done to bring about change? The prophet Micah reminds his listeners that we already have the answer. In verse 8 he says quite poetically:

He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?

That’s how we maintain our humanity in a changing world.

My takeaway from this trilogy is that technological advancement is inevitable, and I’d rather be on the side of understanding it than fearing it. But I will always be an advocate for humanity.

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