Review of Crux: Book 2 of Nexus by Ramez Naam (Angry Robot, paperback, August 27, 2013)
Nexus 5 was released upon the world in the previous book, Nexus. This volume is about the repercussions of that release. Kade watches all the interesting and wonderful things people are doing with Nexus, only interfering when someone is using it to abuse others. He deals harshly with such abusers by using the backdoors in the code, but everyone else wants these backdoor codes as well. His partners who were captured are tortured by the government to reveal the passwords, but they don’t know them since Kade changed them, so this causes even more problems when the government tries to use invalid passwords.
At the beginning of the book Kade is getting his eye and hand replaced in a clinic in Cambodia since he lost his originals in the fights in the last book. While he is recovering, the government increases its efforts to find him because they discover the passwords don’t work. He and Feng have to flee and end up running from temple to temple to stay ahead of their pursuers. Eventually a confrontation results in many monks getting killed and injured, so Kade and Feng head to Saigon to try to blend in with the tourists instead of hiding where others will get killed.
Several groups of people are looking in Saigon for Kade, including Kevin Nakamura and an Indian man named Shiva Prasad, who had to flee his homeland because he dosed all the coral with an engineered virus in order to help it survive. It worked but upset everyone because he didn’t asked permission and many believed it to be a crime against nature. Eventually Shiva Prasad’s people get Kade to their Burmese island which was given in exchange for help with their biotech program. Eventually Kade, Feng, Sam, Shiva, and Kevin are all on the island fighting for control of Kade and the children from the orphanage.
This second volume lets us see Kade get over his naïve thoughts of what others would use Nexus 5 to accomplish and we also see him mature a bit due to all the adverse consequences others experience because of him. He learns that fighting to control what people do with software after release is like trying to stuff a genie back into its bottle. When he looks at all the things people do with it, we get to see Ramez’s great imagination at work full speed, but to reveal more would spoil one of the greatest parts of this book, where we see Ramez Naam the futurist thinking about how the entire human race would use this software in people’s brains to do fantastical things.
Kade and Sam both have more mature moments when their stories are being told separately, and it is interesting to see how the changes in them affect their relationship when they get back in the same location. Sam’s past continues to be a strong influence on her decision-making because she expects the worst of everyone but Kade is using a more recent view to see the worst in humanity at times too. All the characters, even the supporting cast, are well developed and have great depth. We see the past of everyone and how it influences their present as well as how the shared history in different cultures can lead to different results with the same data. The settings in Asia are quite vibrant and having experienced China, Japan and Korea ourselves it really feels like you are there. Ramez’s extensive travel history was put to good use for this setting.
This book is a fantastic near future science fiction adventure with interesting neurosoftware which is implanted as a recreational drug. The software concepts depicted are realistic, but the use in human brains is obviously a bit vague on the details since our neuroscience isn’t quite on that path yet. The US government depicted is very scary but with the wrong people in charge we could be headed that way. It has interesting main characters who are college-age young adults with different types of childhoods. This makes the motivations of the characters different and sometimes confused and conflicted, so what could be a straightforward adventure plot ends up with many twists and turns. Any lover of science fiction adventure should read this book.